Missing Link Friday – 3 December 2010

In this week’s Missing Link Friday — a brilliant idea for reforming the education system, old people, advice about grey hair and the need for teeth 2.0.

Skinner Box kids

"I was just thinking about schooling and I had a most brilliant idea", writes Joseph Clark. "If students were paid in cash for performance they would exert more effort, just like every other economic agent."

Apparently education reformers have been trying to motivate teachers with financial incentives, not realising that children’s lack of money means that an extra dollar given to a child will induce far more effort than an a dollar added to a teacher’s pay. "Why has nobody thought of this before?" asks Joseph.

Economist Joshua Gans is a big fan of economic incentives. He’s even used them to toilet train his kids. Every time his children went to the toilet, he rewarded them with candy. The older kids also got rewarded every time they helped the younger ones. Here’s how his daughter remembers the experience:

I realized that if I helped my brother go to the toilet, I would get rewarded, too. And I realized that the more that goes in, the more comes out. So I was just feeding my brother buckets and buckets of water.

When it comes to using rewards to shape behaviour, the real experts are psychologists. For decades they have been putting animals in boxes and rewarding them with food when they peck a button or press a bar. American psychologist B. F. Skinner had bold plans for education reforms based on the empirically tested principles of operant conditioning. But despite vigorously promoting his ideas, educationalists mostly ignored them.

But not everyone has ignored the power of rewards and intermittent reinforcement schedules. As the Escapist Magazine explains, operant conditioning is alive and well in games like Facebook’s Farmville. As Preston at Stop for a Thought writes, you don’t need to use real money to motivate behaviour:

What’s fascinating about these new games … , is that the rewards are all virtual. They are limitless and cost nothing to produce — ultimately just binary bits of data on server somewhere that somehow have the power to activate the reward centers of our brains the same way praise, food, or sex can (though I confess, all of those sound better than a virtual goat).

And getting back to Joshua Gans’ economic incentives — at Game Theorist he tells how a Thanksgiving visit to the grandparents’ place resulted in the repeal of his ‘candy tax’.


Criminal grannies?

And on the subject of grandparents … At Thoughts on Freedom Tim Andrews posts a cartoon which illustrates why the welfare state relies on theft. Naturally this implies aged pensioners are living on the proceeds of crime.

At Democracy in America, a post by Will Wilkinson suggests that redistribution isn’t theft and points out that even free market hero Friedrich Hayek approved of it. Will writes:

There is nothing wrong with redistributive policy that seeks only to ensure that all citizens have a decent minimum of income and opportunity. That’s part of what’s needed for the rules of the game to be fair.

At p.a.p. blog, Filip Spagnoli wonders whether the morality of redistribution might be more demanding that we think. For example, should we abandon welfare beneficiaries in rich countries so that we can meet our obligations to the poorest people in the third world?

David Penberthy would be happy to wind back income support payments to elderly Australians. A few months ago in The Punch, he complained about:

… “silly old buggers” who believe that turning 65 is the equivalent of winning lotto, and that it’s henceforth the job of government (ie, the taxpayers) to guarantee them a living.

According the Penberthy, pension entitlements are likely to send the country bankrupt unless Australians start providing for themselves in their old age.

Hairy hipsters & the visible signs of ageing

At Still Life With Cat, Kerryn Goldsworthy notices the tell tale signs of ageing in her mousy brown hair. She complains that "boring grey in boring brown just looks dowdy and hippieish and, um, boring". She solicits advice from readers. ThirdCat suggests moving to Abu Dhabi.

Clementine Ford likes left wing men with beards. But after reading her profile on dating site OkCupid, one of the site’s members became confused and accused her of liking vegan, fixie-riding novelists. "I wasn’t going to respond,"she writes, "because frankly I involve myself in far too many internet slanging matches as it is." But of course Clementine did respond — and posted the correspondence on her blog.

While Clementine is thinking about beards, Tracy Crisp (aka ThirdCat) is thinking about teeth. Their "Functionally, sure, they’re a good piece of design, but aesthetically, they don’t do us, as a species, any favours", she writes. Helen from Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony disagrees:

Teeth are designed to last about as long as the average primitive person, so now with life expectancies so much longer, we need Teeth 2.0.

Teeth 2.0? Something like this perhaps?

This entry was posted in Missing Link. Bookmark the permalink.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
7 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rafe Champion
Rafe Champion(@rafe-champion)
11 years ago
trackback

[…] Missing Link Roundup at Club Troppo. […]

Tel
Tel
11 years ago

Once we teach kids that getting paid in proportion to what you produce is reasonable and normal, it’s opening a can of worms later in life.

At that rate, they will never find Socialism acceptable.

Fortunately for all concerned, the system can quickly be corrupted and instead of rewarding actual results, we just start paying for some intangible like contributions to group-esteem or similar. Of just keep the goalposts moving faster than anyone can plan for.

At Thoughts on Freedom Tim Andrews posts a cartoon which illustrates why the welfare state relies on theft. Naturally this implies aged pensioners are living on the proceeds of crime.

Andrews neither says nor implies any such thing. What he actually say is:

So, few would disagree that it is beneficial for society to prevent theft, which we do in many different ways. But, few see the same problem with the welfare state; but everyone should.

Aged pensioners who are merely getting their own tax money back in a time shifter manner are neither victims of theft nor culprits. Most of them get substantially less than what they paid in due to the large handling overheads.

Of course, Tim Andrews was arguing about incentives and shifting the wealth of a given person in time is a completely different issue to transferring wealth (by use of force) over an entire lifetime from people who are nett productive over that lifetime to people who are nett unproductive over their lifetime.

Misrepresenting the argument in such a way is somewhat shameful, but since it is unlikely that anyone would fall for such a trick, it’s also a waste of effort.

rog
rog
11 years ago

JCs brain fart means that kids will be able to swap, buy and sell their qualifications. And why not, it’s a free world isn’t it? (/joke)

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
11 years ago

But not everyone has ignored the power of rewards and intermittent reinforcement schedules. As the Escapist Magazine explains, operant conditioning is alive and well in games like Facebook’s Farmville.

Which came from looking at World of Warcraft, which was influenced by the design of Diablo II, which itself was designed after careful study of casinos and the variable interval reinforcement schedule.

Tom N.
Tom N.
11 years ago

Alas, the adolescents over at Thoughts on Freedom do keep on with their “tax is theft” nonsense – notwithstanding a severe beating from a particular troll over at Cattallaxy recently, when they tried to run the same line. So, I wouldn’t worry unduly about Tel’s attempts to defend the indefensible.