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Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens

by Samuel Bowles Yale University Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 288 pages
AU$44.99 NZ$47.82
Product Status: Out of Print - This title is no longer available
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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. 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.
"The Moral Economy plows new ground in exploring how the actions we take are motivated by their meaning.  Samuel Bowles is proposing a paradigm shift in how we think about our lives and about economics."--George Akerlof, Nobel Laureate in Economics
Samuel Bowles directs the Behavioral Sciences Program at the Santa Fe Institute. He has taught economics at Harvard University, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of Siena and is the author of Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and Evolution and (with Herbert Gintis) A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution.