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.
Posted in Social Reform