OnIncentives (ThoughtStorms)

Standard economic wisdom : people respond to incentives. It's one of the justification for markets (OnMarkets)

Maybe true statistically, but lots of counter-examples.


I dived well into AlfieKohn's arguments and I believe the basis of it is that there are 'external incentives' and 'internal incentives', and that the external ones are effective only on a short range, and might be even countereffective in long run. This strikes me as true, but what it lacks is the analysis of how we acquire the 'internal incentives'.

-- ZbigniewLukasiak

I agree, but is there a difference to be made between incentives in the context of "individual" instruction, and incentives in the context of society? Alas, the first link seems to be down at the moment, but I've read through a quick [interview http://www.webtools.familyeducation.com/article/0,1120,3-281-0-1,00.html interview with Kohn] and really appreciate his view point. (I possibly somehow paranoidly believe that the vast majority of our state education system is to gear people up for a life of subservient work ;)

Firstly, I'm a little confused over the division between "internal" and "external". I started by trying to think about in terms of relationships between the actioner, the person offering the incentive, and the task at hand. But now I think it's more simply whether or not the person wants to do the job. Either way, if I try to not define it, then it makes sense. Maybe it makes sense to define it in terms of TypesOfPower - Exchange and Threat are external, and Imitation and Persuasion are internal, as the motivation comes from the person's desire.

But then, in terms of a society, that basically means that a hierarchy that relies on persuasion will be more sustained than one that relies on reward. But that doesn't guarantee that the society will necessarily be more "desirable" from our viewpoint. In fact, perhaps a short-term incentive system is easier to change and/or to introduce more internal viewpoints into. Perhaps the problem is not just to acquire internal incentives, but to work out what exactly we should be motivated to do.

Anyway, moving on. I think a solid grasp of history and of other cultures is essential if we are to identify the differences and effects of having a more "internally motivated" society. There are, I would say, many cultures that were/are moreso than our own, and survived for hundreds or thousands of years, probably as a result. It would seem that a strong religious faith, for example, gives people more strength - both mental and societal - to achieve great feats. This primarily-persuasional system, most possibly backed up by external motivation in the form of threats ("repent, ye unbeliever", etc) is quite contrasted to our own primarily-reward led machine that is backed up by surrounding persuasional methods ("buying things makes you happy", " you must be thin and pretty", etc).

In short, I still agree that there is more to be gained, as an individual, through internal motivation - more satisfaction, more grounded decision making. But there doesn't seem to be any reason other than preference to believe that internal motivation is necessarily for the "better of mankind", or what-have-you. In the interview, Kohn identifies that 2 studies found that "children whose parents reward or praise them frequently tend to be less generous and caring than their peers," which sounds basically like the old "spoilt brat" thing. But I'm not convinced that more extreme behaviour can't emerge from a non-reward-based upbringing. In other words, perhaps short-term incentives are merely a way of reaching a rather "undesirable to us" average.

-- GrahamLally



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