Why do policies and business practices that ignore the moral and generous side of human nature often fail? Should the idea of economic man-the amoral and self-interested Homo economicus-determine how we expect people to respond to monetary rewards, punishments, and other incentives? Samuel Bowles answers with a resounding "no." Policies that follow from this paradigm, he shows, may "crowd out" ethical and generous motives and thus backfire. But incentives per se are not really the culprit. Bowles shows that crowding out occurs when the message conveyed by fines and rewards is that self-interest is expected, that the employer thinks the workforce is lazy, or that the citizen cannot otherwise be trusted to contribute to the public good. Using historical and recent case studies as well as behavioral experiments, Bowles shows how well-designed incentives can crowd in the civic motives on which good governance depends.
Sam Bowles is Research Professor at the Santa Fe Institute where he heads the Behavioral Sciences Program.
Oriana Bandiera is Professor of Economics and Director of STICERD at LSE.
Charles Stafford is a specialist in the anthropology of China and Taiwan, and in the anthropology of learning and cognition.
Michael Muthukrishna (@mmuthukrishna) is an Assistant Professor of Economic Psychology. His research focuses on the evolution of humans and human culture and the many implications of these psychological and evolutionary processes.
The Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science (@PsychologyLSE) study and teach societal psychology: the psychology of humans in complex socio-technical systems (organisations, communities, societies). Our research deals with real-world issues, we train the future global leaders.
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