Strings Attached: Untangling the Ethics of Incentives

byRuth W. Grant
Rating 6 /10 Readability
Read Time 7 hrs Readible On
Published: 2011Read: October 20, 2017Pages: 224
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by Juvoni Beckford@juvoni

Incentives are one of the more powerful, yet underrated forces. An incentive is the added element without which the desired action probably would not occur. The ability to influence the behaviors of another is something that the author points out should be monitored and the ethics of incentives weighed. Governments and other institutions make heavy use of incentives to influence their citizens and society at large. Understanding incentives can help build your defense against them being used to manipulate you. The book has a very academic tone, prompting the question, what should be considered when we weigh the ethics of incentives. I felt like the book was too narrow, lacking depth for such an impactful concept.

Motivations to Read

I am fascinated with understanding why people behave they do and how to uncover there desires as well as how to strategically use incentives. Incentives are a great force, and they need to be used responsibly. This book covers the ethics of incentives and goes through various use cases of institutions that deploy incentives to influence behavioral change.

3 Reasons to Read

  • Can incentives be manipulative or exploitative, even if people are free to refuse them?
  • What are the responsibilities of the powerful in using incentives?
  • An academic look at the power and ethics of using incentives

Notable Quotes

"Recall that in the early twentieth century when the term was introduced, "incentive" had this narrow meaning. In psychology, incentives served as motivators in the absence of the automatic forces of instant. In industry, incentives were used when market forces failed to motivate people in certain directions." — Ruth Grant

"This is a general result of the use incentives. Where people are paid to give blood, more of them will lie about their health status. Where teachers' incentives are tied to students' test performance, more teachers will change their students' answers on the exam sheets. Where students work in an environment that values only extrinsic rewards for learning, cheating goes up."

"Incentives cannot teach self-discipline. This is a crucial point: incentives are worse than useless if character is your primary concern."

"People react negatively when they feel their freedom of action is threatened. And contrariwise, the more an individual is treated as a responsible agent and the less he or she is made to feel like a puppet, the more effective the incentive will be."

Notes for this book are still being transcribed.
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posted December 9, 2017

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