Showing posts with label Economics - Behavioral. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Economics - Behavioral. Show all posts
  • Paying More for Less: Understanding the Correlation between Big Payment and Work Performance

    About a year ago, I wrote a short article on whether there is any relationship between guaranteed high bonus and excessive risk taking by the management of a company. You can see the post here. Basically, such guaranteed high bonus gives a negative incentive to the board of directors to take higher risks in order to gain better benefit for the company. While higher risks might be translated into higher profits, they can also cause higher costs and losses which would trouble the company and the shareholders. In other words, big payment might actually produce worse results.

    Apparently, Dan Ariely, a Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, has a similar view on this issue, though he reached the conclusion from different perspective. In his latest book, The Upside of Irrationality, he discusses his experiment which more or less shows that higher payment does not always work. The experiment was conducted in India, where several participants were asked to play some games in which they will receive financial compensation if they completed certain objectives within the games. The tests were divided randomly into 3 categories (the games were same, though), the first category gave very small payment (equal to payment for 1 working day in India), the second category gave mediocre payment (equal to payment for 1 week of work), and the third category provide the highest payment (equal to payment for 5 months of work). FYI, the average costs of one month living in India is US$11, so 5 months means US$55. That's why Dan had enough funds to conduct his research :).

    What's the result of the experiment? Well, you might have guessed this: statistically, those who play the games in the third category end up as the worse players. It seems that the thought of having such a huge payment in the end of the game gave them a huge pressure, so huge that most of them fell under the mental pressure. This is interesting and yes, I can relate this to myself. As an example, when I do online shares trading, the bigger the stake is, the harder I make the final decision. It is a very stressful experience! The case is different when the stake is low, and I definitely can make a better decision in such case.

    Therefore, it is quite easy for me to understand the result of the above experiment. When you know that the stake is very high (i.e. the end rewards), there is always a possibility that you will fall under the pressure which eventually will affect your overall performance. The similar thing can happen to those CEOs who are promised with guaranteed big fat bonuses. Since they need to establish a sufficient evidence that they are worthy enough to receive such payment, they take actions that might be riskier which then turn out to be a deep trouble for the company. Hence, lower performance.

    I must say that Dan Ariely experiments entertain me most of the time. Like it or not, men are not always rational. There are certain conditions where our rationality might be defeated by our impulse. Only by accepting this fact that we can actually improve ourselves from such weakness. For more information, I suggest you to quickly buy the book. It's available in Times, as far as I know.
  • On Becoming a Libertarian Paternalist: Designing Better Policies for the Society (Part 2)

    In my post dated 26 August 2009, we have discussed the basic concepts of Libertarian Paternalism, introduction to better policy making, and examples of human errors with respect to daily economic activities. Today, we will discuss some useful guidelines in making better policies and how to implement such guidelines in actual life.

    The Six Guidelines of Better Policy Making

    According to Thaler and Sunstein, there are 6 basic guidelines for better policy making:
    • Expect Error;
    • Defaults;
    • Understand Mappings;
    • Give Feedback;
    • Structure Complex Choices; and
    • Incentives.
    Each will be further discussed below:

    1. Expect Error

    I guess this is the first guideline to be considered by policy makers. Since most men make mistakes, a good policy will consider such fact and will ensure that the mistakes can be fixed in the easiest way.

    What is the actual implication of this guideline? While governments or private institutions can try their best to design a good policy, they must be aware on the possible failures due to human errors and must ensure that the system will be able to sustain and fix such problem. There are many examples for this problem, but let me show a very interesting case as provided by Thaler and Sunstein, that is the case of birth control pills. Some of you might be aware that in one month, most women will take birth control pills for about three consecutive weeks and then stop for one week (due to the menstruation period). Many women have difficulties to adopt to this system and some of them may forget to take their pills in accordance with the required schedule. So what the companies do with this condition? They provide 28 pills in 28 containers, each having a specific number from 1 to 28. However, pills in containers no. 22 till 28 are only placebos made for the sake of compliance by human users, and thus they don't have any effect whatsoever. Interesting isn't it?

    2. Default
    The "Default" guideline is made due to the fact that most people will take the options which require the least effort, or in other word, people would instinctively take the easiest route in doing something (seems familiar?). In our daily life, the "Default" option represents an option that, if the chooser does not do anything, will cause most people to end with such option, whether the option itself is good or bad. The case will be stronger if there is any suggestion (explicit or implicit) on such "Default" option, i.e. people will most likely take such option without much hesitation.

    In reality, we can't avoid this "Default" problem. Governments and private options in many cases need to provide "Default" option, such as the default choice of menu in a fine-dining restaurant or the default choice for investment policies in your pension funds. Now, since the "Default" option is very powerful, it would be best to ensure that any "Default" option is made for the benefit of the people. How can we do this?

    There are two possible ways. First, we can design that each "Default" option requires an active approval from the relevant user. This means that a "Default" option will only be applied once it has been approved by the user. However, in several cases, some people ended up with having no benefit simply because they are too lazy to activate their own "Default" option.

    The other way is to design the best possible policy that can be made by the government or private institutions and then such policy will be made as the default option, whereas any people who don't agree with such option will always be free to opt out. Take as an example your computer's download system. All major software company requires the user to actively choose whether they want to download a file or not for each downloading session as a default option, instead of the automatic downloading system. Why? Simply because downloading a file automatically might be dangerous (e.g. causing computer virus attack) and you'll need to properly asses such risk whenever you are trying to download a file. Simple, but important. And in each case, you can always change the setting (of course, if your administrator permits you to do that).

    3. Understand Mapping
    The third guideline deals with the fact that most people will have some difficulties when they are facing complex choices. A good policy will provide some mapping mechanism to its users, enable them to review the possible options in an easier manner and will allow them to choose the best option for them. In other words, we're talking about better disclosure to the public.

    Now, let me ask you some simple questions, do you really understand the actual costs for using your credit card ? Or how to calculate your telephone bills? I bet that most of us wouldn't even know.

    That's why we need a regulation which would require companies to have better disclosure system. The implementation of the "Understand Mapping" guideline should be cheap and will maintain the basic freedom of choice for consumers. It would also be good for the business because it can increase fair competition without having to use excessive litigation method (such as the use of Anti Monopoly and Unfair Competition Commission) or forced price control.

    As an example, let us see the telecommunication industry. Imagine that the Government now requires each telecommunication provider to provide all relevant information related to the costs of their services and to provide a simple costs comparison with other providers. The information should also be easy to be obtained by all consumer. With this kind of policy, we would have a better understanding on the actual costs for using telecommunication services and can easily spot the best provider which would satisfy our needs. Each telecommunication company will also have better incentives to increase their business efficiency and to optimize their services due to this information disclosure system. Wouldn't that be nice?

    4. Give Feedback
    It goes without saying that a good policy will be able to provide a feedback to the user, whether they have done well, or were actually making mistakes. A nice example provided by Thaler and Sunstein is our internal computer system that warns us before our computer battery completely runs out.

    Based on this guideline, I also have an idea where there is an integrated system to supervise the use of credit cards by each person. We know that each credit card has its own limit. However, in many cases, rather than acting as a limiter for people in using credit cards, such limit encourages people to spend their credit cards up to its maximum limit, and in some other cases, people tend to obtain many credit cards to increase their total credit cards limit. All of these are totally wrong.

    Now, by using this integrated system, the banks would know how many credit cards are owned by a person, including each of their limits. Whenever certain amount of the combination of the limits have been reached (which should be in accordance with the credit worthiness of the user), all of the credit cards wouldn't be available for use. We have this supervision system for banking loan and credits application, why not for credit cards? We can help many people by using this kind of system. Remember, having many credit cards doesn't mean that you're becoming richer.

    5. Structure Complex Choices
    Actually, this guideline is deeply related to Guideline no. 3. When people are facing complex choices, they tend to simplify the choice. That's why a good policy maker will structure its policies to be easily understood and choosed by the user. One of the most useful methods that is being widely used is the "Collaborative Filtering."

    Don't be afraid with the name, since it's basically a public review system and the internet really helps the development of this method. As an example, when you want to buy a law textbook and you have many choices but don't have enough time to read all of the available books, what would you do? You'll ask other people's opinion right? In the world wide web, you can simply search the title using Goggle or Yahoo and then you can see whether any people have made a review on such book. It is easy, cheap, and in most cases would be helpful for us in making an efficient decision.

    6. Incentives
    This is my favorite guideline and has been discussed various times in my other posts. It's very simple, people respond to incentives, they actually calculate the costs and benefits of everything, though maybe not as complex as a professional would be. Therefore, a good policy should always calculate the best incentive to be used in order to make such policy can be effectively applied.

    Some legal scholars claim that currently most regulations are no longer effective to bind the people and therefore they are questioning the efficacy of the law itself. If only these people understand the basic nature of men, they would not say such a thing. You can't expect people to follow the law if you don't provide a suitable incentives for them. If you think that people will act according to a law only because of morality or religious reasons, I suggest that you need to reevaluate again your idea, or I'm afraid you will be frustrated.

    I wouldn't provide any examples for this guideline as I believe you have seen many in my previous posts and I assure you that you will see more in my future posts.
    Concluding Remarks

    I hope this article can enlighten you on how the government and private institutions should design a policy which would maximize the benefit for the people without minimum cost to the people's freedom of choice. I personally agree with most of this Libertarian Paternalism movement, but I need to put some qualification here. What matter most to me is finding the most effective policy in improving people's live, so when the circumstances show that preserving free choice would not be efficient, some other methods would be needed. This is especially relevant when we're dealing with major criminal acts, such as terrorism, money laundering, and corruption. Of course it would be really nice to reduce these criminal acts by using positive incentives, but don't put too much faith on that.
  • On Becoming a Libertarian Paternalist: Designing Better Policies for the Society (Part 1)

    A Libertarian Paternalist is someone who believes in Libertarian Paternalism, but since I'm guessing that most people wouldn't even know the definition of Libertarian Paternalism, you can check the definition here. So, why are we discussing this issue?

    I have just finished reading a book titled "Nudge," and a very interesting book it is. Made by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (Professors of economics and law at the University of Chicago, respectively) this book introduces the movement of Libertarian Paternalism, a movement that supports governments and private institutions to adopt policies which can maintain or maximize people's free of choice while in the other hand influence those people to improve their life and important decisions, such as wealth, health, and happiness. The basic reasoning is quite logic, people make errors most all the time and in reality, there is no such a neutral design in making a policy, so why don't we maximize the possible choices for the people, design the most possible best options, encourage people to take the best options, but ultimately let them also be free to take their own actions with regard to the choice alternatives?

    The book also offers several forms of incentives and methods that can be used by governments and private institutions to improve people's life in accordance with the Libertarian Paternalism movement. For someone who are trying to find how to structure the best policy or regulation for certain issues in this life, I find that this idea is enlightening.

    Human = Error?

    I have to admit that the idea that common people tend to err on a regular basis is quite disturbing. However, there are too many supporting facts on this issue that would prevent us from declaring the idea to be baseless. See this site for additional insights on human errors, especially with respect to daily economic activities (by the way, Dan Ariely's book, Predictably Irrational, is also highly recommended).

    While I believe that men are rational beings, i.e. able to think rationally and make decisions on a reasonable basis, I can't deny the fact that our decisions are subject to various internal and external factors, and these factors may take a dominant position, even more dominant than our own rationality. Let us face it, how many times did we make a decision based on a cool and wise demeanor? I bet that most of us will answer: seldom. In most cases, decisions are being made by our impulsive side, the automatic system in our mind which is very vulnerable to biases and blunders. Not to mention our weak self control, overconfidence, excessive ignorance, and tendency to follow the herd (i.e. going with the trend without too much thought). All of these factors may negatively affect our ability to make a better choice in our life.

    See some of these interesting examples:

    1. On Procrastinating
    Procrastinating is always be a big problem for most of the people. You might be familiar with these statements: "I'll save money as soon as possible," "damn, I'm getting fat, I should exercise tomorrow," or "well what do you know, the deadline for the paper is still three months, I guess I'll take a break for a week and finish it later." Yes, most of us procrastinate, including myself. But how come? Aren't people aware on the danger of being obese, or retiring from a job without any saving? Then why people still procrastinate? Is it due to irrationality or an overconfidence or simply an inability to grasp the actual risks associated with our actions?

    Have you ever think why some governments issue mandatory pension plan for their citizen, where the citizen is forced to put some of their salaries to their pension account? I dare to say that this is one of the reasons.

    Having a mandatory pension plan is a positive nudge, although of course how we should structure such plan to reach the maximum results is another case to be discussed. By having a mandatory pension plan which automatically enrolls worker to some form of pension funds, the government may save people from being poor after their retirement due to low saving. True that the pension plan can go bust, but the risk is smaller than letting people not having any pension plan.

    2. On the Ownership Bias
    Several researches made by Thaler & Sunstein and Dan Ariely reveal that people are having difficulties in determining the value of certain goods due to the ownership problem. Those who possess an asset tend to value their asset higher than those who don't posses such asset, and the discrepancy of the value can be very, very huge. In one of Thaler & Sunstein experiments, participants are being given a mug or a chocolate bar having the same price. Half got the mug and the other half got the chocolate. Interestingly, when they are being asked to trade their mug with the chocolate and vice versa, only 10% of the participants are willing to trade. Why?

    In another case, Dan Ariely made an experiment using college students where some of them successfully obtained a ticket for a really famous university basket ball final competition and the others failed to do so. These tickets are very hard to obtain, and most students must spend their nights in tents just to have an opportunity to get lotteries for getting the tickets. Yes, lotteries! Even after spending two days in tent, they still need to push their luck to get those tickets. However, despite the difficulties in getting those tickets, there were many students who participated in getting the tickets.

    After the tickets distribution, Dan contacted students from both sides to find out how much they value their tickets, and he found a very amazing result. In general, those who failed to obtain such tickets were only willing to pay max US$170 for buying one ticket, whereas those who obtained such tickets were only willing to sell their ticket for a minimum of US$2,400 per ticket. This is amazing, especially when we considering the fact that before the distribution of the tickets, almost all students were very eager to obtain the ticket.

    So, what is the effect of this ownership bias? Because people tend to value their owned goods higher and hates losses for whatever they cost, they would be more likely stick with their current holdings, even when such condition is not always better. In a more complex way, the ownership bias can be used to lure consumer toward what Dan Ariely calls the "virtual ownership," i.e. making people think that they have ownership over an asset in order to increase the opportunity of such people to purchase the assets with a higher value. One example is where your cable TV operator provide you with a "gold package" limited trial period with a discount. after certain period of having a standard package. When you try it for the first time, most of you would probably think that if you don't like it, you can always back to the standard package, or say, downgrade it a little to the "silver package." But in reality, most people tend to just stay with the gold package after the limited period expire even though the price has become more expensive. Why? Because people hate to lose the facility that they have obtained previously.

    Ask yourself, it's hard to downgrade your quality of life right? As long as you have sufficient funds, you would most likely try to maintain your quality of life, even if it is getting more and more expensive, rather than to cut some expenses and save more money from the cutting. So don't be confused when some people claim that the richer you are, the bigger your expenses will be.

    3. On Free Items Bias
    Other experiment made by Dan Ariely shows our fragile way of thought when we are dealing with free items. The experiment was done in a halloween day where Dan gave chocolates and candies to kids wearing costumes. At first, he would give these kids three small Hershey candies and then give them 2 options, i.e. (i) if they are willing to give him back one candy, they'll get a small Snickers chocolate bar; or (ii) if they are willing to give him back two candies, they'll get a big Snickers chocolate bar (twice the size of the small Snickers). The Hershey candy itself only worth 1/10 of the big Snickers.

    In the first experiment, almost all children successfully pick option No. 2. However, in the second stage of the experiment, Dan change the condition, i.e. (i) they'll get a small Snickers chocolate bar for free without having to give any of their Hershey candy; or (ii) if they are willing to give him back two candies, they'll get a big Snickers chocolate bar. Interestingly, now most children take the first option which, if viewed by a rational man, should be considered as a very bad choice. Again, how come? It is also interesting that Dan repeated a similar test to other people, including college students, only to find similar results! Seems that there isn't much development in human behavior when we're dealing with this kind of issue as children and adults encounter similar results.

    It doesn't take a genius to understand that the free item bias have been used many times for business marketing purposes. Try to think of some, and you'll soon realize it. Next time, when you go to a sale, try to compare, would it be better to have a 50% discount or a buy one get one benefit? Or, what is better, having a 30% discount or a buy 2 get 1 benefit? When you're getting this question, you will start to think carefully in determining the best option. But, if people are not thinking it through, I dare to say that most people will take the buy one get one or buy two get one benefit.

    Rational Imperfect Beings and The Need to Design Better Policy
    We have discussed above some examples of the great ability of men in making errors in daily life. But let us don't forget that men is able to think rationally, men respond to incentives and information. We might be imperfect beings, but it doesn't mean that we are completely irrational. If the government or private institutions can design a better policy which will encourage people to really think deeply about their life and decisions, wouldn't that be very good?

    What are the criteria for designing a good policy? You'll have to wait the second part of my post. So please be patient on that :).

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