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Doing the Right Thing for the Right Reason: Why Incentives Are No Substitute for Character
Barry Schwartz, psychology, Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania
Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, UBC
March 01 10:00 am - 12:00 pm

Taking their cue from economists, managers and policy makers have come to rely on the use of clever incentives to get people to do the right thing. Barry Schwartz will argue that incentives can never be clever enough to get us what we want and need from doctors, lawyers, teachers, and bankers; that people have to want to do the right thing because it is the right thing. Moreover, incentives can actually make things worse. They can compete with other motives, thereby undermining people’s desire to do the right thing in the absence of incentives. In a society in which everything we do is governed by incentives, people can lose any sense of moral or social obligation. That is, when we allow incentives to dominate our social institutions, we can create a world in which incentives are all there is. In a world like this, nothing works as it should.

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