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[Book] The Moral Economy

Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens


Using historical and recent case studies as well as behavioral experiments, Bowles shows how well-designed incentives can crowd “in” the civic motives on which good governance depends.


By: Samuel Bowles
Pages: 288
Available Amazon | ibooks | Indiebound

Should the idea of economic man the amoral and self-interested “Homo economicus” determine how we expect people to respond to monetary rewards, punishments, and other incentives?

Samuel Bowles answers with a resounding no.

Policies that follow from this paradigm, he shows, may crowd out ethical and generous motives and thus backfire.

But incentives per se are not really the culprit.

Bowles shows that crowding out occurs when the message conveyed by fines and rewards is that self-interest is expected, that the employer thinks the workforce is lazy, or that the citizen cannot otherwise be trusted to contribute to the public good.


About the Author

Samuel Bowles heads the Behavioral Sciences Program at the Santa Fe Institute. He previously taught economics at Harvard University, the University of Massachusetts and the University of Siena.

He is the author, most recently, of Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and Evolution (2004), A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and its Evolution (2011, with Herbert Gintis) and articles in Science, Nature, the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the Journal of Public Economics and other academic journals.

He has also served as an economic advisor to presidential candidates Robert F. Kennedy and Jesse Jackson, and former South African President Nelson Mandela and has taught crash courses in economics to trade unionists, community activists and others.


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