Economists stress the importance of incentives in how we creatures make choices, but are often too keen to think of incentives only in monetary terms: if you want to encourage Herr Human to do something, just offer some money as a reward for doing that thing and let economics unfold. In vast expanses of human experience this assumption holds, but pockets of obstinacy can cause it to fall apart like a soggy twenty-dollar bill. For reasons as varied as people, money ceases to be a motivator and can even effect an outcome opposite to the intended purpose. Cash is commercial and can cheapen an achievement or negate whatever intrinsic motivations existed. Perhaps paying kids to make good grades, such what economist Roland Fryer is attempting, will result in better outcomes, but perhaps not. Incentives, as the Austrian school stresses, do not exist in an objective plane, but are formed in the subjective perceptions of the individual. These thoughts were in my head today as I had a haircut.
Haircuts in Rwanda, at least for me and other muzungu males I know, are meticulous and take a long time, at least thirty minutes and sometimes longer. To avoid a wait, which drags the thing out yet more, I go on weekday mornings. Today as I bumped along on a mototaxi to my preferred place in MTN Centre, I decided to offer a standard incentive to the barber: if he could cut my hair and trim my proud six-week-old beard in 15 minutes or less, I would give him a forty percent tip, and about half that if he took less than 25 minutes. In the event, he smiled and and began at what seemed to me an accelerated clip (so to speak), but the final snip did not occur until about a half hour later. What's more, after warmly beckoning me back for future cuts, he said not a word of the tip and shooed me out.
There are many possible reasons why this incentive turned out not to be, so I am loath to draw any conclusions beyond the general one already outlined above. What I do know is the experiment left me doubly sad, for while my haircuts will not be getting shorter, my beard has--a month's growth gone in one sweep.