August 26, 2008
The New York Times on Friday, August 22, 2008 reports that the Iraqi army is paying guerrillas to reduce violence. The United States commanders say that the practice, however unconventional, has saved the lives of hundreds of American soldiers.
Some public school programs advocate paying students for good grades. In New York City, high-school students, in more than 60 schools, are eligible to win as much as $500 for improving their scores on math and English tests.
Some support the idea. Greg Fleisher of the National Math and Science Initiative which run a seven-state program says that: "It is an incentive to get them [students] to basically make the right decision and choose a more rigorous class."
Others are against it. Bob Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing says that: "Bribing kids for higher test scores is similar to given them steroids. Short-term performance might improve but long-term effects can be very damaging."
The practice is not new to many parents that reward their children with a treat or even money for a good report card.
Incentives are tools used in public life such as corporate bonuses, taxes, medical research and trade.
Ruth Grant from Duke University and Jeremy Sugarman for John Hopkins University in an article published by the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy state that incentives are usually made in a context of an authority relationship whether from employer to employee, from government to citizens or government to organizations.
Incentives involve relations of power and influence behavior. Whenever we deal with power there is always the risk of abuse of that power.
Can an incentive be ethically suspect?
Answering the following questions might help us be wise in determining whether we should offer or accept an incentive:
1. Is it legal?
2. Is it transparent?
3. Is its purpose justifiable?
4. Does it exert undo influence (or is it manipulative)?
As, Naguib Mahfouz the Egyptian novelist once said:
"You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions."