The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens

Samuel Bowles

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The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens

The Moral Economy Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens 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 w

  • Title: The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens
  • Author: Samuel Bowles
  • ISBN: 9780300163803
  • Page: 260
  • Format: Hardcover
  • 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 sWhy 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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    One thought on “The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens

    1. Darren on said:

      Ignore morals and the generous side of human nature at your own risk is the key takeaway point of the author in this fascinating look at the so-called moral economy. Contrary to what we may believe, we might not be as mercenary and self-interested as we may imagine, particularly when there is a more ethical or generous alternative available that does not automatically place us in a lesser position through its choice. Thinking in a more open, considerate manner about our fellow man, our suppliers [...]

    2. Peter Geyer on said:

      The 1993 federal election in Australia was, amongst other things, a clash between two party leaders inclined to economic language. The Labor Prime Minister, a self-taught man with a talent for acerbic jabs at his opposition is still known for his comment that you could "back self-interest, because it's always trying. The Liberal leader of the opposition, a similar kind of personality, was a trained economist and one-time professor of economics. His party had used the term "incentivation" as a th [...]

    3. S Blaeske on said:

      This was an extremely painful read for me as I am sure I am not the target audience, I have no background in economics and have never taken an academic course on economics, so a lot of the language was above my understanding Google came in handy for a quick look up of terminology as I read. And the author was excessively repeative, which when reading something I had to push myself through, the lengthy, over done repetition of points that could be summed up in one sentence, were excruciating. Tha [...]

    4. Eric Bottorff on said:

      A book that should be read by every economist, or really anyone interested in public policy.

    5. Martin Kosík on said:

      The main thesis of the book is that incentives can alter social norms and preferences and thus reduce (or in some cases increase) the effect of the incentive on behavior. Bowles presents convincing experimental evidence for this effect but his book does not answer why incentives sometimes crowd-out social norms and strengthen them in other cases.

    6. Jonathan on said:

      An informative read that shows the limits and adverse effects of assuming the existence of economic man (Homo Economicus). As Bowles shows through a wealth of case studies, when incentive structures assume that people are purely self-interested, they will "crowd out" ethical and other-regarding motivations, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy. The case studies are often quite interesting, but can feel rather repetitive or overly long at times as Bowles gets bogged down in the details.

    7. Sven Gerst on said:

      Interesting read with many great insights into human behavior—althoigh repetitive at times. Calls for a complementary book on how politics crowds out/in civic virtue.

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