When we go from the social contract to the economic one

When we go from the social contract to the economic one

Broadly speaking, we could say that we have two ways of behaving : one way is characterized by social exchanges and the other by mercantile (or economic) exchanges. Social norms are very delicate and can be transformed into mercantile ones, but it will hardly be the other way around. Imagine that you own a nursery where the children have to be picked up at 4 in the afternoon, but the parents are late very often. The result is that at the end of the day there are several parents who are late and at least one caregiver has to be left with them until the parents arrive. To do?

It seems to be a fairly common problem and it is difficult to think of the optimal solution . Well, two economists, Uri Gneezy and Aldo Rustichini, offered a solution: fine those parents who were late. After all, why should the nursery take care of those children for free ?

The study was done in 10 daycare centers in Haifa, Israel and lasted 20 weeks. For the first four weeks and still without a fine, they kept track of the number of parents who were late. There were an average of eight delays per week and daycare. In the fifth week the fine was introduced and it was announced that parents would pay $ 3 per child when they were more than 10 minutes late. The figure would be added to the monthly bill.

At first glance, it would seem that parents would take less time to pick up their children, but the number of delays not only decreased, but increased . In a short time, the number of parents who were late to pick up their children rose to 20, more than double the number before the fine. The incentive had failed.

Change of contract

What had happened? Before imposing the fine, the parents behaved according to a social contract . Parents felt guilty about being late and tried to arrive earlier the next time. But when imposing the fine the parents felt that they were already paying for their tardiness, so it didn’t matter: they paid it and they didn’t feel guilty. And that was precisely what the nursery wanted to avoid. It had gone from a social contract to a commercial or economic contract .

But the most curious thing is what happened later, a few weeks later, when the nursery wanted to return to the previous behavior by eliminating the fines. And what happened is that not only those who were late continued to do so, but there was an increase in parents who, not having to pay anything, left their children with complete peace of mind.

This makes us think that when we have gone from a social contract to an economic one, there is no going back . Companies, knowing it or not, try to keep us in a social contract rather than an economic one, since with the former we will always yield more .

Source | Dan Ariely , The Traps of Desire . Photo | Pixabay