Monday, November 14, 2011

Rewards and Punishments

The problem with capitalism is that it is too rewarding. The prospect of unlimited income is undoubtedly motivating—drug lords have excellent work habits—but that’s precisely the problem. We know that people will lie, cheat, and steal for relatively small payoffs. What do you suppose they’ll do if they can make $345 million a year doing it? Swindle their customers? Destroy the environment? Sell tainted food? Sell people into slavery? Buy politicians? Subvert the courts? Start wars? Betray their country? As we all know, the lords of universe do all that and a great deal more as a matter of routine. Even the most fervent disciples of the gospel of wealth are perfectly aware that the doings of the great would be the sheerest criminality in small timers. They simply assert that these activities automatically result in good consequences, a conclusion they apparently base on something they read somewhere.

What we have here is a dosage problem. If one pill makes you feel better, it doesn’t follow that it’s a good idea to empty the bottle. The opportunity to get ahead can certainly make people work harder and sometimes smarter, which is very often a good thing. Increasing the potential rewards without limit, however, simply means that other motives and considerations will be overwhelmed. Offer me enough and I’ll not only ignore my obligations to my fellow man, I’ll feel that I ought to ignore them.