Coincidentally, the same day I criticized economists for looking at everything, including schools, through the lens of financial incentives (see
“If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail” — Economists Go After Schools Again), The Economist Magazine ran a column called “Muddled Models” saying the same thing.

Here are some excerpts:

Do economists have an accurate model of human motivation? Or do they assume that our motives are entirely mercenary?

….This other-wordly mentality is reminiscent of Catherine the Great’s aphorism about political ideas which “work only on paper, which accepts anything, is smooth and flexible and offers no obstacles either to your imagination or your pen.”

A related criticism is that economists tend to think that most problems can be created by designing the right incentives. If there is a shortage of blood, making payments to blood donors might seem a brilliant idea. But studies show that most donors are motivated by an idea of civic duty and that a monetary reward might actually undermine their sense of altruism….

….In short, many economists seem to neglect the importance of non-financial motivation, although the school known as “behavioural economics” is starting to remedy this….

….The history of economics can be viewed rather like the regular sequence in the Peanuts cartoon strip, whereby Lucy snatches the football away every time that Charlie Brown tries to kick it. Just when economists have reached a consensus, events in the real world proved them wrong.

Perhaps, indeed, economists should stay away from schools….