During World War II, the German military publicly celebrated the performance of its flying aces to incentivise their peers. This column uses newly collected data to show that, when a former colleague got recognition, flying aces performed much better without taking more risks, while average pilots did only slightly better but got themselves killed much more often. Overall the incentives may have been detrimental, which serves as a caution to those offering incentives to today's financial risk-takers.
Philipp Ager, Leonardo Bursztyn, Joachim Voth, 14 January 2017
Sebastian Galiani, Nadya Hajj, Pablo Ibarraran, Nandita Krishnaswamy, Patrick McEwan, 22 October 2016
Conditional cash transfers are a form of programmatic redistribution that can yield electoral benefits for incumbent parties. This column assesses the electoral impact of conditional cash transfers targeting poor areas in Honduras. Voters responded to the net amount of cash transfers and their timing, but the conditional elements of the transfers were not commonly enforced and the distribution of payments did not always conform to schedule. Electoral incentives to improve implementation do not appear to be strong.
Rasmus Landersø, James Heckman, 12 September 2016
The Scandinavian model of social welfare is often contrasted favourably with the US model in terms of promoting social mobility across generations. This column investigates the accuracy of these claims, focusing on the case of Denmark. Denmark invests heavily in child development, but then undoes the beneficial effects by providing weak labour market incentives for its children to attend school compared to the US. This helps explain why the influence of family background on educational attainment is similar in the two countries.
Thomas Eisenbach, David Lucca, Robert Townsend, 17 June 2016
The two main elements of bank industry oversight are regulation and supervision. This column provides a framework for thinking about supervision in relation to regulation. Using US data on supervisory hours spent, it finds evidence of economies of scale for bank size. Additionally, less risky banks receive substantially lower amounts of supervisory hours. The findings highlight that supervisors face resource constraints and trade-offs.
Samuel Bowles, 26 May 2016
Explicit economic incentives – for example, a subsidy to contribute to a public good – can sometimes ‘crowd out’ generous and ethical motives. But when properly designed, can incentives ‘crowd in’ these civic virtues? This column uses an example from ancient Athens to show how this might be done, providing a lesson for modern mechanism design and public policy.
Michael Kosfeld, Susanne Neckermann, Xiaolan Yang, 08 May 2016
Employees care about more than just money. Understanding these non-monetary motivations can help organisations incentivise performance. This column presents evidence from a field experiment that explored the motivational effects of ‘meaningful’ work. Recognition and meaning are found to have substitutive motivational effects, while monetary incentives and meaning have additive effects.
Avinash Persaud, 20 November 2015
As the recent Financial Stability Board decision on loss-absorbing capital shows, repairing the financial system is still a work in progress. This column reviews the author’s new book on the matter, Reinventing Financial Regulation: A Blueprint for Overcoming Systemic Risks. It argues that financial institutions should be required to put up capital against the mismatch between each type of risk they hold and their natural capacity to hold that type of risk.
James Robinson, Ragnar Torvik, Thierry Verdier, 27 July 2015
Economists have long understood that policy chosen by politics is unlikely to be socially optimal. This is because politicians face the probability of losing power and may discount the future too much, or act to improve their re-election probability. This column explores these issues taking into account the fact that future government revenue is uncertain. Public income volatility acts to reduce the efficiency of public policy. This has important implications for developing countries that rely on income from volatile sources, such as natural resource extraction.
Bruno Frey, Jana Gallus, 11 March 2015
Official awards are common in both monarchies and republics. Awards are bestowed not just by the state and the military, but also by cultural associations, academic institutions, and corporations. This column surveys the academic literature on the use of awards and their effect on motivation and performance. The authors argue that awards are a welcome means of honouring dedication and commitment. They delight their winners, motivate high performance, create role models – and come at low or even no cost.
Tim Besley, Anders Jensen, Torsten Persson, 12 February 2015
The Eurozone sovereign debt crisis has highlighted the problem of tax evasion. This column examines the effect of social norms on tax compliance using the UK poll tax as a natural experiment. Comparing councils where tax evasion spiked more during the poll-tax period to those where it spiked less, there was no systematic difference before the poll-tax period. However, once the poll tax was abolished, tax evasion remained higher in the former group, suggesting that high poll-tax non-compliance created a persistent norm of non-compliance.
Erika Deserranno, 11 February 2015
We know that financial incentives can affect behaviour by increasing the payoff to completing a task. With incomplete information about a job, financial incentives can also affect potential applicants’ behaviour by conveying a signal about the nature of the job. In the context of a recruitment campaign for a new position, this column presents the first empirical evidence of the signal conveyed by incentives and its strong effect on the selection of workers and the performance of the organisation.
Niklas Bengtsson, Per Engström, 28 October 2014
Critics of the ‘audit society’ and the so-called ‘new public management’ doctrines have gained momentum in recent years. At the centre of the critique is the so-called motivation crowding-out hypothesis. This column presents evidence from a field experiment involving Swedish non-profits. Far from crowding out intrinsic motivation, the threat of an audit improved all aspects of efficiency.
Raj Chetty, Emmanuel Saez, László Sándor, 11 August 2014
Peer review is at the heart of academic economics, but there are few professional rewards for submitting detailed referee reports on time. This column reports the results from an experimental study of referee motivation. Shorter deadlines ‘nudged’ referees to submit reports earlier. Cash incentives also reduced turnaround times, suggesting that any ‘crowding out’ of intrinsic motivation is small. Social incentives – publication of turnaround times – were more effective for tenured referees than shorter deadlines or cash incentives.
Richard Dorsett, 21 November 2013
Individuals moving from long-term unemployment into work face a number of challenges. This column discusses the use of temporary in-work support during this transition. Recent experimental evidence has shown the potential for such support to have a positive long-term effect. It can increase not only employment entry but also employment retention, and so may provide a means of addressing the low pay, no pay cycle.
Imran Rasul, Daniel Rogger, 19 November 2013
Around the world, civil service reform is viewed as necessary to deliver public services effectively and to foster development. However, evidence is thin on how the management of bureaucrats affects the provision of public services. This column presents new evidence from Nigeria linking completion rates of government projects to bureaucractic management practices. Greater autonomy is associated with higher completion rates, whereas performance monitoring and incentive schemes seem to backfire. The most effective private-sector management practices may not be suited to public sector bureaucracies.
Joan Costa-i-Font, 12 April 2013
Are healthy lifestyles purely about people’s personal choices? Can we explain why specific people are fit, non-smokers and risk-averse? This column argues that policymaking can incentivise health behaviour but that monetary incentives are not the only approach. Academics and policymakers should aim to influence social norms and society’s role models when monetary incentives are not enough.
Simon Burgess, Carol Propper, Marisa Ratto, Emma Tominey, Stephanie von Hinke Kessler Scholder, 06 September 2012
Do cash incentives matter in the public sector? This column looks at the use of incentive schemes, such as performance-related pay, in the British Labour government between 1997 and 2010. It finds that cash incentives do matter, but that their design is critical.
Oriana Bandiera, Kelsey Jack, Nava Ashraf, 13 March 2012
What motivates agents in the social sector? Recent theoretical advances indicate that financial incentives might crowd out intrinsic motivation and reduce performance. This column describes a field experiment where hairdressers in Zambia were motivated in different ways to sell condoms. It finds that social recognition can be a more powerful performance motivator than financial gains.
Victor Ginsburgh, 16 January 2012
Economists have shown that wine tasters can’t tell Bordeaux from budget plonk, movie critics are prone to giving biased reviews, and Olympic judges are often judging what’s best for them to say rather than what’s in front of them. This column asks why we should expect credit-rating agencies, with their own unique set of ignorance and incentives, to be any different.
Ian Tonks, 08 January 2012
Ever since the fall of Lehman Brothers, it has been a popular view – and one increasingly held by officials – that banker bonuses are at least partly to blame. This column compares executive pay in banks with other companies and finds, contrary to the growing consensus, that the financial sector differs not so much in its reward for taking risks, but in its reward for expansion.