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incentives

Incentives and Values in Conflict-Prone Countries

Eliana Cardoso's picture

One of the most extraordinary examples of the use of economic principles comes from the beginning of the 19th century, when England used to send a huge number of prisoners to Australia. The government originally paid the ship captain a pre-determined amount for each prisoner that boarded the ship, but half of them would die during the journey. In 1862, Edwin Chadwik, knowing that people respond to incentives, told the U.K. government to pay captains according to the number of prisoners that actually disembarked in Australia. With this adjustment, the survival rate increased from 50% to 98.5%.

This example illustrates how incentives can do wonders in some circumstances. Yet, human actions are not always guided by the same calculations made by a profit maximizing ship captain. Behavioral economists have emphasized that we respond to a deep ingrained sense of fairness. Culture and values are crucial in understanding human behavior and promoting healthy and stable societies.