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The Forum > Article Comments > A rewarding performance > Comments

A rewarding performance : Comments

By Joel Bevin, published 11/11/2008

There are definitely rewards to be had by following the ubiquitous law of incentives.

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An excelent argument with much to mentally to chew on.
Keep up the good work.
Posted by examinator, Wednesday, 12 November 2008 5:55:21 AM
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An interesting and useful examination of the death penalty in the context of disincentives.

There are of course dangers in the econometric approach, which is objective, whereas the subject - murder, judicial or mass, is essentially subjective and non-linear.

"As a disincentive, the death penalty fails but as a tool for retribution, it may achieve the finality many desperately need."

The problem rests in the two-dimensional nature of the act.

Does the punishment fit the crime? Yes, if you agree that a life for a life is a balanced equation. (Victim's - or relative-of-victim's - view)

Did the prospect of punishment act as a disincentive? Nope, for the reasons stated. (Perpetrator's view)

In this case, though, the residual effects of carrying out the death penalty are much broader and far-reaching than merely these two.

What impact does it have on our moral case for objecting to the death penalty in future when applied to an Australian citizen in Indonesia?

How will it modify the behaviour of people who now regard Amrosi & Co. as martyrs to the cause?

We must always beware of "unforeseen consequences", where insufficient attention has been paid to behavioural changes brought about by the system itself.

Managers who are paid on revenue will ignore profit, CEOs paid on the bottom line will sack people, consultants and lawyers paid on an hourly basis will discover complex problems that require their undivided attention, and so on.

A friend of mine often tells the story of the shopping centre of which he is manager. After lobbying for years to get a police presence there to combat the rising tide of petty theft and hooliganism, they were finally granted some coverage. Crime instantly disappeared.

After two weeks, the patrol was removed, because the arrest rate upon which the police team was measured, had also gone down...

Theory is great. Reality is however far messier.
Posted by Pericles, Wednesday, 12 November 2008 12:45:09 PM
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Posted by dawnrimes023, Wednesday, 12 November 2008 5:48:44 PM
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Congratulations for shedding light on the commonly misunderstood role of incentives in driving human behaviour.

The role of incentives is best illustrated by the British governmentís practice of contracting with ship captains to transport prisoners to Australia in the 1860s.

The survival rate of the prisoners shipped to Australia was only 40 percent, which everyone knew was much too low. Humanitarian groups, the church, and governmental agencies appealed to the captains on moral grounds to improve the survival rate with more decent treatment. Despite these appeals, the survival rate remained at 40 percent.

Finally, an economist named Edwin Chadwick recommended a change in incentives. Instead of paying the captains a fee for each prisoner who walked onto the ship in England, Chadwick suggested paying them for each prisoner who walked off the ship in Australia. The improvement was immediate and dramatic. The survival rate increased to over 98 percent, as the captains now faced a strong incentive to protect the health of prisoners by reducing the number crowded into each ship and providing them with better food and hygiene in passage

It must be recognised though that the role of criminal sanction goes well beyond pure incentivising. As we all learn in legal studies 101, there are a multitude of purposes at play -

- punishment and retribution
- rehabilitation of offenders
- deterrence of offenders (individual and general deterrence)
- denunciation of the conduct of offenders
- incapacitation

These are often competing purposes and hence cannot always accommodate the fully optimal incentive policy.

Another interesting proposal is to fine misdemeanours (like jay-walking) at levels proportionate to the offenders income.
Posted by Richard Dowling, Monday, 17 November 2008 2:18:15 PM
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