Some Late Night Highly Contrarian Economic Thinking For Ya: Perhaps BOTH Carrots And Sticks Are Generating Entirely Unintended Consequences

Personally, I’d like to see a MUCH broader spectrum of data before deciding whether the conclusions here hold water, but the idea itself is fascinating: people actually may be LESS likely to perform positive actions when incentivized (either via threat or reward) than if they’re instead effectively taught the moral consequences of their conduct – An intriguing (not to mention, bold) thesis along with some compelling theoretical arguments to back it up. Still, this somewhat radical (and certainly counter-intuitive) proposal will clearly require significantly expanded field testing before we have any real sense as to whether the case-studies cited are merely outliers and/or the extent to which this purported psychology is affected by culture, type of activity, socio-economic status, gender, etc… – in addition to a LONG list of other factors.

Therefore: On the Frazer Rice “Is It Worth Thinking About Scale (Version #23)” (You know, that decades-old, highly scientific and now world-famous evaluation system…), I’d give this particular idea about a 5.3 

(Fear not, good readers - as a general matter, if I’m not at work, on the golf course, performing staggering charitable accomplishments, cavorting with exotic female musicians, hanging out at my private island “fortress of EVIL,” or completing Stage 3 Navy SEAL training – I do also conduct econometric field research) — Follow-up soon…

[“How Incentives Demoralize Us”, Barry Sharpe & Kenneth Sharpe, Big Ideas and Innovation (hosted on LinkedIn), 6/7/2013]

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