Regular readers of this blog are well aware of my concerns about using extrinsic rewards.

Here’s another great example of why they can be so damaging…

Michael Sandel has recently written a book about the values of the market invading all aspects of our lives (see “What Isn’t for Sale?”). I have it on my nightstand, but haven’t gotten to it yet.

The Boston Globe published a short excerpt
today — it’s worth reading the whole post. Here’s the excerpt:

For years, Switzerland had been trying to find a place to store its radioactive waste…. One location designated as a potential site was the small mountain village of Wolfenschiessen (population 2,100). In 1993, shortly before a referendum on the issue, economists surveyed the residents of the village, asking whether they would vote to accept a nuclear waste repository in their community if the Swiss parliament decided to build it there. Although the facility was widely viewed as an undesirable addition to the neighborhood, a slim majority (51 percent) of residents said they would accept it. Apparently their sense of civic duty outweighed their concern about the risks. Then the economists added a sweetener: suppose parliament proposed building the nuclear waste facility in your community and offered to compensate each resident with an annual monetary payment. Then would you favor it?

The result: support dropped to 25 percent. What’s more, upping the ante didn’t help. When the economists increased the monetary offer, the result was unchanged. The residents stood firm even when offered yearly cash payments as high as $8,700 per person, well in excess of the median monthly income.