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You Get What You Incentivize

You Get What You Incentivize

There is a principle that is well known in business: You get more of what you incentivize. So, for instance, if you are offering a product for sale and you give a nice discount, you will sell more of that item.

This same principle holds true when it comes to government policy. For example, if you make it easy for people to collect a welfare check, more people will quit working and sign up for welfare. But it is not just negative things. If you lower taxes and eliminate burdensome regulations on businesses, more people will look for jobs, and even start new businesses.

Well, the state of California passed Proposition 47 back in 2014. This proposition was dubbed the “Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act.” The law basically redefined many crimes that used to be considered felonies, in a way that made them misdemeanors. In particular, it prohibited prosecutors from charging felonies against people who committed crimes where the financial value of stolen or fraudulently obtained property was less than $950.00. Since these crimes were deemed low value, police also reduced the amount of effort given to stopping them.

One of the main stated reasons for promoting this law was to lower the prison population. And if that was its intent, it has been a great success. When you turn things that were crimes into non-crimes, you have less criminals.

However, it has also done something else. It has caused the incidence of theft to skyrocket. Interestingly, in some places the crime statistics have actually decreased. It seems, though, that this observation is a somewhat deceptive. Apparently one of the reasons for the decrease is that since it is futile to report this kind of crime, many shop owners simply don’t waste their time reporting it.

But beyond the increase in shoplifting and other financial crimes below the $950.00 threshold, there has also been a dramatic increase in organized crime activity and drug use. Crime syndicates have set up to buy the stolen property for very low prices in order to sell it and make a handsome profit. And drug addicts have found that stealing these “low value” goods from stores is an easy way for them to get money to buy drugs. The reason these things are happening is because this kind of crime has been incentivized by the new law.

You Get What You IncentivizeSo, what is really going on here? What is going on is an attempt by California politicians to engineer society using naturalistic worldview principles. Naturalists don’t acknowledge the concept of sin. And since they don’t even believe in God, they do not recognize the existence of any kind of objective morality. For them, stealing is only a bad thing if, based on their own definition of harm, the stealing creates significant harm to society. Obviously, they consider the financial losses to merchants to be much less of a problem than catching and incarcerating criminals.

Additionally, they see human beings as nothing more than natural animals that have a highly evolved brain. With that as a starting point, right and wrong are understood to be nothing more than human constructs, and the means for creating the best society is simply a matter of identifying perceived problems and creating conditions that mitigate those problems. As it relates to Proposition 47, the bad problem is prison overcrowding. The solution for them was to simply remake the definition of a crime. For the Californians who support this initiative, the economic problems that are happening are a small price to pay for solving what they see as a larger problem. Of course, the merchants don’t see it that way, but those who have political power are the ones who get to make the rules.

But the naturalistic point of view doesn’t reflect reality. Human beings are not merely natural animals. They are spiritual persons who have a sin nature – who are fallen. Using Pavlovian conditioning to change behavior simply doesn’t work on humans the way it does on dogs or elephants. People make self-conscious choices – and many people make their choices based on what they think they can get away with.

What we see is that Californians have incentivized theft because they don’t understand the actual nature of the human person. Their naturalistic worldview beliefs have caused them to make decisions that are getting a particular outward result that they desire, but has ended up creating other problems that are destroying property and other people’s lives. And until they begin implementing policies that reflect the actual way reality is structured, particularly regarding their understanding of the human person, they will continue seeing the destruction of both society and of individual lives.

Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication, and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah. 

You may also contact Freddy at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule him for speaking or leadership engagements.

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Freddy Davis


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