The Moral Economy

Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute For Good Citizens

Book Cover: The Moral Economy

This book by Samuel Bowles explores the theory that incentives might backfire if they foster the very self-interest that they were designed to harness. He gives the example of a child care centre which adopted a policy of fining parents if they were late in picking up their children with the result that late pickups increased as parents felt it was morally acceptable provided they paid the fine. The rule was subsequently reversed but this group continued to be late in picking up their children compared to a control group which did not have any change in policy.

Putting a price on every human activity erodes certain moral and civic goods worth caring about.

Having noticed a suspicious bunching of sick call-ins on Mondays and Friday's the Boston fire Commissioner ended the fire department policy of unlimited paid sick days. Instead, he imposed a limit of 15 sick days and if fireman exceeded that limit they would have their pay docked. The number of fireman calling in sick on Christmas and New Years Day increased tenfold as a result. The Fire Commissioner retaliated by cancelling the fireman's holiday bonus cheques. The firemen were unimpressed and in the next year, they claimed 13431 sick days up from 6432 a year earlier. Many firemen apparently insulted by the new system abused it or abandon their previous ethic of serving the public even when injured or not feeling well.

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.

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AussieKomet

Episode 68 right on the mark

This episode was just the right length, but more importantly, was a little more measured in addressing the topics. I admire the Iron Fist in the way he can craft rational statements about appalling behaviour in the topics discussed, and I found the 12th Man to be a good balance to the Iron Fist. I wish the Velvet Glove wouldn’t giggle at important topics or when religious thinking is described – we already find them ridiculous, but laughing every time is a bit much after hours of listening to episodes. This is a fun but semi-serious podcast that everyone should listen to, and I thank them for making the time to produce it.

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nedd_

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Rhhhgdtgvv

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Australian Centred Debate

This podcast is great for those looking for debates about secularism, religious power structures and Western liberal democratic ideals, all with a focus on the Great Southern Land. The two main protagonists bounce ideas off each other and occasionally guests are brought in to give different perspectives (I love to hate Right Wing Tony!). These are not Left Wing Nutters, I know as I tend to that description too often myself and disagree with them at times. Rationality and free thought rule! The boys don’t mind if you throw in your two cents, in fact, I think they love to hear from the public. Very worth a listen.

MrBJones73

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Rodelyi

Stumbled upon

I stumbled on this podcast and enjoyed a number of podcasts. I love the deconstruction of the arguments and the range of topics. The input of the 12th man, right wing Tony and in particular Hugh Harris and Objective morals and Moral relativism. I am a atheist/secularist and would love to see you guys on Q&A keep up the great work. Secularism is a fight worth fighting for.

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Not getting any worse

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KR

Well balanced podcast

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topcat282

Back catalogue

Greeting Fist, Glove and Man. I’m working my way through the back catalogue and enjoying it immensely. Your discussions contain the kind of intelligence and fluid thinking with a touch of irreverence that I have been looking for in a local content podcast. Keep up the good work.

Tony W

Love your work

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Caitlin

Sensible Secularists

A provocative and informative discussion of current affairs at the intersection of religion and politics. The perfect antidote to religious privilege and snowflake culture. Best listened to at 1.5x speed.

Algy

Episode 139 Comedy Classic

G’day Iron and Velv. When I found you blokes, I had finally found some Australian voices of reason and common sense. After listening to a chunk of the back catalogue and keeping up to date with the podcasts, I became a patron, you fellas should be on the Senate. Anyway, episode 139 was a little strange at first, until the nutter came out. And then, oh mate, it became comedy. Where did you dig up that crazy nutter? Thanks Fist and Glove. Watley

Watley

Hi guys, many thanks for

Hi guys, many thanks for your podcast which I have just discovered. I am looking forward to exploring the back catalogue. It’s great to hear Australian voices doing such a podcast. One thing though – it’s a bit blokey. Ever thought of having some women on?

Ms McIntosh

Brilliant

Possibly my favourite Aussie podcast. Nice one to do the gardening to!

Tobias

Great Aussie Secularists..

Finally found some Aussie voices speaking about our issues with Australian accents and with Aussie guests from a secular point of view. Great work guys!

Trevhoare

Congrats

Congrats on 3 years! I’m a fairly new fan (thanks to Caitlin Langley) and this is becoming one of my favourite podcasts. Keep up the great work. – Andy Dowling, Andy Social Podcast / Self Starter Podcast / Bass Player in LORD (don’t worry, we’re not a Christian band!).

Andy Dowling

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