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  • What is a reward?

    Posted by ken on May 24th, 2006 (All posts by )

    A reward is a consequence of an activity that encourages more of that activity.

    A punishment, of course, is a consequence of an activity that encourages less of that activity.

    Now a reward can be in the form of a monetary profit. The reason that a monetary profit works as a reward is because people like to make money, and the reason for that is that people who liked to make money consistently outbred and outlived people who didn’t. You can work out further links in the chain of causation yourself.

    At any rate, most of what we think of as rewards are rewards because most individual humans will change their behavior to get more of them.

    A reward can also work by causing more humans to exist who tend to behave in the rewarded way. This would obviously be a longer-term reward. But it does the same thing… encourages more of the rewarded activity to occur.

    So having kids and raising them to adulthood is itself a long-term reward for whatever behaviors are handed down to them through example or heredity. Having kids and letting someone else raise them to adulthood is a long-term reward for whatever behaviors are handed down through heredity, and raising someone else’s kids is a reward for whatever behaviors are handed down through example.

    Which means the “free-rider” problem that appears to obtain from parents not getting monetary rewards for raising kids is not as bad as it might seem. The reward is a slower one, acting over several generations instead of a few years. But it is there. And so is the punishment… if you don’t have kids, whatever behavior caused you not to have kids will not be handed down and will occur less in the future.

    The real problem comes from just what behaviors are being rewarded and punished in this way…

     

    7 Responses to “What is a reward?”

    1. Shannon Love Says:

      Unfortunately, the problem goes beyond mere incentives.

      I think the real problem is resource routing. In a well functioning market, voluntary exchanges allocate the material resources and peoplehours to the production of things the economy needs. Monetary incentives are merely part of this mechanism.

      The non-economic rewards of parenting are enormous. Studies have shown that people with children are generally happier than those without especially as they grow older. However, no matter how much someone may enjoy being a parent they might simply not have the access to the resources to raise children because there is no economic feedback for doing so. Most people who chose to have children report that they have fewer children than they would like due almost exclusively to economic issues.

      I would say that emotional, personal, non-economic factors are the ONLY reason that people continue to raise children. People who make their decision based purely on economics wouldn’t even consider it.

    2. Tyouth Says:

      reward can also work by causing more humans to exist who tend to behave in the rewarded way. This would obviously be a longer-term reward. But it does the same thing… encourages more of the rewarded activity to occur.

      Huh?

      Do you mean the reward is that the breeder (or raiser-teacher) gets his ego stroked? Pretty thin, if that’s what you’re trying to say.

    3. ed in texas Says:

      Oh Jeez, are we gonna do this one AGAIN? Why don’t you just get a lightning rod to wave around…
      Speaking as a parent, I can say that the financial incentives offered by Uncle Sugar had NO bearing on the decision. (You sure miss them when they go, though.)

    4. Ken Says:

      “Do you mean the reward is that the breeder (or raiser-teacher) gets his ego stroked? ”

      Uh, no. The behavior becomes more common in the population, because children tend to behave like their parents. It’s not causing individuals to change their behavior, it’s causing new individuals to exist who behave in a roughly similar way to those who created them and raised them. But it works out the same way in the long run.

    5. Tyouth Says:

      Do you mean the reward is that the breeder (or raiser-teacher) gets his ego stroked? ”

      Uh, no. The behavior becomes more common in the population, because children tend to behave like their parents. It’s not causing individuals to change their behavior, it’s causing new individuals to exist who behave in a roughly similar way to those who created them and raised them. But it works out the same way in the long run.

      Who is rewarded and what, exactly, is the reward?
      (“Having “mini mes” exsisting” doesn’t strike me as rewarding in and of itself.)

    6. sol vason Says:

      The unspoken assumption you are arguing against is that money is the sole motivator. Money is considered to be a motivator by economists because it can be measured. However, in the MBA program money is NOT a motivator, it is a satisficer. People only want money until they have enouigh then they want something else; they want “self-actualization”.

      Economists can’t measure “self-actualization” so they ignore it and assume money is everything.

      If you doubt that a person can have “enough” money, look at your neighbors. Why do they only have 1 job? Why aren’t they robbing 7-11s? They only work until they have enough money.

      The “free rider” problem exists only if money is the sole motivator, the sole source of rewards. Consider the 7 Deadly Sins: Anger, Sloth, Lust, Pride, Gluttony, Greed and Pride. Only greed requires money or wealth of some sort. All the rest are sins even the penniless can enjoy. Sinful behavior is a behavior that gives a person a powerful, life-altering reward which is, unhappily, socially unacceptable. The Sins are proof that non-monetary rewards exist and determine human behavior.

    7. NC Says:

      Having kids and raising them is more of a consumption decision. You pay for clothes, food, entertainment, education, etc. according to your preferences for having a kid.

      Most consumption decisions are not connected to monetary reward, so there’s no free-riding problem with raising kids not being monetary rewarding.