Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Incentives vs. Virtue"

I recently read an article by Chuck Colson titled "Incentives vs. Virtue" The article is very interesting and I would encourage you to read it.

Recently, behavioral economics have become increasingly popular and the application runs from school districts rewarding after-school study sessions with raffles for ipods and t.v.s to one N.C. city paying teenage mothers $1 per day they are not pregnant. Behavioral economics is not necessarily new, but this application is. The point is that kids are being bribed into things they should be doing, for their own good. And the problem is that when the reward runs out, will the kids still act in their own best interest? And where does it end?

It brings to mind the welfare problem. Certainly welfare was intended to help, the problem is when does that help start to be couterproductive and inductive of dependence? And how does the government decide when/if the person no longer needs the welfare? Or if the person is just abusing the system? It is the same problem with government-run virtuous incentives.

I believe we are breeding a population that will not know how to do the right thing without a financial incentive.

I think it is different if the incentive comes from a parental role. There the parents can measure whether or not the incentive needs to change or is ready to go away. For example, my parents rewarded me with money for A's in school. But that went away once they realized that the good grades were reward in and of itself for me. I was at the point where I was self-motivated to do well in school.

As a parent, the incentive must vary. For example, potty training. When potty training, I reward like crazy. And then as the behavior become learned, I reduce the reward. Finally rewarding only for bowel movements. And then once those become learned, I reduce those away. What happens with the child is that they learn the behavior is actually in their best interest. It goes from being an extrensic reward (getting candy for peeing on the potty) to being an intrensic reward ("I don't want to mess myself")-acting in their best interest. As a parent I can make those decisions. The government can not.

I am not against a reward system for obedience. Indeed, a reward may be necessary to teach my children behaviors I want them continuing. Rewarding for cleaning rooms without being told, turning off lights and fans, for solving differences without involving me or screaming at each other, etc. These rewards eventually train my children to act the way responsible adults should act.

However I reward my children, whether money or not, is only to point them towards the heart of the issue; sin and selfishness are not in our best interests and will not be rewarded. We act selflessly because Jesus acted selflessly. We are sinners. We are saved because Jesus acted selflessly and sacrificially. We do right when we do the same. That is ultimately our best interest-to serve and please God.

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