04 June 2013

Ingenuity is not in short supply

What stimulates human ingenuity of this sort?

Like casino designers' spatial strategies, their ambient strategies treat affect not as something passive or static, but as an active and dynamic capacity that can be harnessed and guided in lucrative directions. A study titled Effects of ambient odors on slot-machine usage in a Las Vegas casino found that slot revenue rose by a full 45 percent in a gambling area where machines had been subtly treated with a certain pleasing odor while remaining static in another area that had been treated with a different but equally pleasing odor. The author speculated that certain aromas produce an 'affective congruence with the situational context," encouraging longer play... Source: Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, Natasha Dow Schull, August 2012

Or this:

In thousands of labs across the planet, medical researchers are trying to find the cause of, and cure for, obesity. They examine genes, chemical exposures and metabolic pathways. They experiment with amphetamines, anticonvulsants, probiotics. Some of this research is funded by the companies that make and sell the food that makes us fat. In thousands of other labs across the planet, food scientists and marketers are working on ways to make you eat more. They employ highly sophisticated psychological and physiological research to this end; they examine the effects of colour, unit size, price, texture, packaging and advertising on human desire. Look around you: who is winning? Fat City, Karen Hitchcock, 'The Monthly', March
Human ingenuity can be channelled in all sorts of ways; the two examples above show how significant quantities of high-quality mental resources are channelled into producing goods and services that generate short-term, financial, benefits for corporations, while imposing heavy costs not only on wider society but also on the targeted individual consumers.

The people who do this targeting aren't evil. They raise families, take out mortgages, pay taxes and no doubt volunteer at school sports days. They are simply part of a system that rewards, more than anything else, activities that benefit a corporation in ways that can be calculated by the accountancy profession. 

It's a crazy system. Of course, we don't want a society that tells corporations what to do, and there will always be a role for regulating their activities. But couldn't we give incentives for people and corporations to generate long-term benefits for wider society? Why must society be largely driven by those transactions that are captured by corporations' trading accounts or balance sheets?

A Social Policy Bond regime would instead target society's long-term goals. It would lead to the setting up of corporations whose goals would be entirely congruent with those of society. Instead of paying people to spend their working lives implanting odours into slot machines, we could redirect their ingenuity into solving some of our social and environmental problems. We don't suffer from a shortage of ingenuity; we suffer, and some of us suffer grievously, from a system of perverse incentives, which  directs our ingenuity into activities that have little social merit. Social Policy Bonds could re-orientate those incentives: the implications of building a motivated coalition of people who, necessarily, will want to achieve society's wider goals and whose rewards will depend on how well they do so, are immense. 

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