The Santa Claus Solution

Suppose we live in an age where technology permits us to monitor a large proportion of the actions of citizens. The State may then replicate our childhood notion of Santa Claus and reward us according to whether we have been naughty or nice. And we, like all good children, will strive to be the latter. In such an environment, I believe man’s greed for wealth and fame may be used against him, in fact for the good of mankind. The theory I present below is admittedly fraught with loopholes but might be worthwhile discussing.

I find that all human actions are based on incentives. Whether it be incentives which we inherently respond to, such as basic survival, or whether it be incentives that we have grown to respond to, such as wealth and power, man has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to conduct a constructive cost-benefit analysis in terms of most things he does or plans to do.

This information is vital to a governing state since it is generally accepted that the right set of incentives would persuade a citizen to do almost anything. Now how may we use this to our own advantage?

Crime is often committed by human beings who calculate that the positive incentives to commit a crime are greater than the negative incentives associated with being detected and punished. Even where the negatives slightly outweigh the positives, human beings often tend to respond to slightly smaller positive incentives more readily than to slightly greater negative incentives. However, if we were to alter the stakes and increase the positive incentives in desisting from committing crime and being law abiding, the responses we would receive from potential criminals may be quite different.

To take a rough illustration, let us consider police corruption. A few years ago, bribing a Police Officer who stopped you for speeding or driving under the influence was common practice in Colombo. However, the government policy to award a commission or monetary bonus for each successful arrest made by a Police Officer changed all that. The Government used the Police Officer’s inclination towards monetary benefits against him and effectively replaced the briber. And thus, it is not so easy or convenient to bribe a Police Officer on the road today.

Suppose we extend this principle and treat all human beings the same way the State would treat profit-oriented companies. A range of incentives such as tax breaks, better credit ratings, and even monitory bonuses may be offered to citizens who strive to maintain a perfect, law abiding track record. Each citizen would effectively be given a fully public and transparent Citizen’s Rating which he may seek to improve in order to receive higher benefits. Even those who are lower down the scale in terms of wealth distribution may seek to improve their positions merely by remaining law abiding citizens. Added to this, the criminal justice system may be reworked to inflict disproportionately high fines for committing offenses, depending on income levels, thereby making crime too expensive to commit. Putting these positive and negative incentives together would in fact make it profitable for a citizen to be law abiding. (The specifics may be worked out once the principle is appreciated.)

Added to this scheme, we may also consider improving a citizen’s Rating where he or she engages in social service thereby rapidly increasing the positive incentives in being altruistic. An analogy may be drawn to the Government providing tax holidays to companies with CSR programmes.

The greatest sacrifice one would have to make in such a system would be the right to privacy. In such a scheme of affairs, the actions of all citizens and the ratings they receive will effectively be placed within the public domain. This may be viewed as a sacrifice unworthy of the benefits of a slightly more law abiding society. However, I tend to believe that if more thought is put into the manner in which human beings respond to incentives, we may succeed one day in establishing the perfect set of incentives to ensure the near-perfect, law abiding and altruistic society.

Thank you for reading.


~ by Archangel on February 26, 2008.

14 Responses to “The Santa Claus Solution”

  1. omg! i so randomly looked at kottu 2day realized that add has returned!? omg. lol. but y hav u cum bak? any particular reason?? & uncle disco and ranil and all of u guys!!! this is so weird. i didnt bother looking all these months & here u guys r!! out of e blu.

    nyway…this is a great article! except it takes us 2 some future tym.

    1 question: if e govt can monitor us @ ALL times…then ppl wont want 2 risk crime in e 1st place, ryt?!! so no need 2 reward them 4 not committin smthin they wudnt commit nyway.
    but i agree if its not totally possible 2 monitr every1 & e ratins r public…that cud b a gud incentive.

    ok gtg. wil read e other posts latr!! cya!

  2. The policechild caught me going at 55kmph at parliment road and decided that he hungry and wanted a piece of chocolate cake.

    The auditchild came to our division and accused me of buying useless scientific equipment because she didn’t know any fuck about a research scale irradiator. Plus, the bitch wanted a bonus for christmas.

    Personally I don’t have an issue of creating children out of adults. But telling them to play with loaded gun is another matter.

  3. I find this is an interest post. I do agree with what ME have to say. Sometimes I think to myself, is there any way for us to eliminate the police altogether – after all police is also humans and they get to enjoy the privilege of feeling superior to rest of the taxpaying mortals. Using things like artificial intelligence won’t do in this case either, because things like those need human touch. So there are so many practical issues in this. But I do not willing to dismiss your theory just for that. Even the current system is not even closer to perfection.

    Come back to theory. Isn’t that what we already do? Right now, we start with the point assuming all the people are good. And we provide them mostly all the privileges – such as driving, access to public service, and that sort of things which happen to be extremely expensive privileges. And we monitor them as much as technically possible and if they caught behaving bad, we take away certain privileges. For ultimate crimes, we take away privilege of having our company for life as the last resort.

    The only deferent is, in your case, you start from a point we are neither bad nor good – and start to provide privileges as they prove to be good. But the practical issue is, society already depend on those privileges like driving for instance in every single thing we do. So we cannot take away those things from general public, so we have to come up with new set of incentives that may not affect basic social structure. A tax breaks maybe?

  4. Very thought provoking post.
    Sam, I agree with you about the privileges. But is driving really a privilege? Isn’t it a basic right to free movement. I don’t think this is about giving people basic rights. I think what the author is talkng about is giving people added benefits. Dangling a carrot.
    But I tend to agree with the point Isabella made. (is that your real name btw?) Anyway, she said if the state watches us all the time, we wouldn’t be committing crime much anyway. So this whole theory would be redundant if it depended on 100% surveillance. But having said that, I don’t think privacy laws would permit that, so we would still need a crime detection system. In that case, this theory makes sense because people may want the whole world to know they don’t break the law so they would get the added benefits. I don;’t know, I think the author should clarify this.

  5. EJ, Driving is a privilege. Check with your local DMV 🙂

  6. Is a Bell! You’re back! Disco Bob’s avuncular joy knows no bounds! 😀

    Archangel: “…we may succeed one day in establishing the perfect set of incentives to ensure the near-perfect, law abiding and altruistic society” Yes, and we’d also probably create a society of mindless drones, occasionally disturbed when hardcore individualists, who can’t take it any more, take matters into their own hands with Howitzers. Makes Disco Bob’s trigger finger itch just thinking about it.

  7. so you kill your cunt of a neighbor and get -10 points, pick up garbage for a few weeks and accrue +10 points and your back to being a model citizen. This counter argument is fraught with loopholes, but the specifics may be worked out once the principle is appreciated.
    also… the more rights such as privacy and other associated liberties have grown to be so strongly appreciated in many modern societies, the more theories such as yours end up being merely academic or of practical interest only to a pol pot or stalin. More disincentives associated with similar systems of State and governance have been adequately explored repeatedly in ‘big brother’ themed works – ‘1984’ as a starting point. The core problem is who controls santa clause and who would even have the capacity to control santa.

  8. Sam,
    “Isn’t that what we already do? Right now, we start with the point assuming all the people are good. And we provide them mostly all the privileges – such as driving, access to public service, and that sort of things which happen to be extremely expensive privileges.”

    I don’t think it is correct to say privileges will be granted in exchange for being law abiding. Rather, privileges will be denied if laws are broken. What I propose is that added privileges, which are not available in day to day life are bestowed upon those with excellent records. This is the positive incentive for being law abiding. If the State were to give basic privileges depending on track records, then the system would fall apart because we would have a whole range of people malcontent with the Government. Whereas, the better way to approach it would be to grant basic privileges from the outset and take them away if there is a violation. And then grant further privileges (such as the ones I spoke of) to encourage those who are maintaining good track records.

    , you simplify my theory to the point of absurdity. Perhaps I should used your own illustration to better explain my point. Suppose you get 10 points for picking up the garbage and deducted 90% of your assets for committing a capital offense such as killing your neighbour. Would that provide any incentive for refraining from knifing the poor bastard?

    More later.


  9. yes son, i was using it as an illustration of the principle behind my argument. Expand upon it and you would find many flaws with your big brother system. Perhaps its just that a free thinking atheist finds the flaws in your santa clause system of incentivized guidance from above far easier.

  10. Utopia… since people always have urges, but not a bad method at all.

    There is a parallel idea used in some countries called the “Credit Rating” … at least you are trusted more when you go for a bank loan…. so may be your theory will work one day!

    Interesting post

  11. I believe this exists in the west…

  12. Really?! where does this exist in the west?

  13. […] 4 1145 5 1125 6 984 7 980 8 907 9 790 10 750 11 […]

  14. Man’s greed for wealth is one main thing that drives the human nation to success. What drives the human is mentioned is Maslow’s Hierachi of needs. Human is an animale that evolves with Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest. The powerful will survive and succeed while the weakling will be defeated.

    People who are used to obay one single authority, that judges other people’s actions could agree to your theory.

    I can’t understand how someone would believe that all the human actions could be watched upon by some single suthority. And who would be qualified to judge someone else’s actions?

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