Going beyond money: Part 3 (A dose of the real-world) [Strange Solutions]

Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash

NOTE: This is a 3-part article:

Part 1: The problem

Part 2: Birth of incentives & usefulness of money

Part 3: Non-monetary incentives at scale

Do non-monetary incentives already exist?

Hopefully at this point you agree that money isn’t some all-powerful incentive. But rather a very useful way to (a) motivate people with different stories/SoSWs, and (b) get access to those resources considered highly beneficial to the tribe.

In addition to this, part of money’s allure is also that we have co-opted it to satisfy some of the other proto-incentives. For example, money CAN be used as a signal to show status within certain tribes or to help tribes themselves gain influence or power.

In its versatility of uses, money truly is remarkable. However saying that it is the only mechanism that we can use to further the cause of the common man seems deeply unimaginative.

In fact, many instances of non-monetary incentives that satisfy the proto-incentives already exists. We just need to pay attention.

Example #1: Improving access to an identified in-group/tribe & improving one’s status (ability to impact change) within that community

This is a case study in the rise of social media & echo chambers in general. While many “influencers” do indeed tie their social media presence to monetization, this is not the conscious goal for most of social media users. I.e., Most people are not on Instagram to make money.

Rather it is a tech-enabled way for us to tackle that third proto-incentive — connecting with like-minded tribe members & trying to improve our standing within that tribe. Social media became more successful than any fad because it gave people access to their tribes. And it incorporated status-signaling elements (badges, likes etc) to send signals to the tribes.

Example #2: Proto incentive — Improving the status (ability to impact change) of your tribe vs other tribes

Religions that advocate conversions to that religion are the best examples of this proto incentive. Fanatics and missionaries don’t need a regular & well-paying salary to go out there and get more people to buy into their vision of God.

They do it on their own accord, often going to extreme lengths (even to the extent of self-destruction) to achieve this. And they do this because they want their story (and of their tribe) to be more dominant than other competing memes

“OK, but these examples are obviously different”

Are you thinking “that’s well and good, but money is obviously different than likes on social media”?

If so, it may only be because of our history with money. They are both artificial constructs that directly tackle a particular proto incentive. The reason they seem different is that one is generally viewed as fair game for government intervention/regulation, whereas the other is not.

Similar to “likes” on social media platforms, money has an emergent property — it has been observed to emerge even in remote areas that may lack a functioning government. However, not all paper money is equal.

A nation-state’s progress can be hindered by relying solely on free-market enterprises/institutions to create money to grease the wheels to progress. To really maximize progress & accelerate impact, nation-states must take regulatory control of money.

They are responsible for setting limits on the supply of money (often through private participants such as banks); and have a judiciary system to enforce their monetary policy AND tax their citizens to use those funds for societal-level needs such as infrastructure, defence, or education.

It is this tacit backing by governments that makes money special. That forces everyone to accord it value & trade using it. Without the backing of a government (and the authority it represents), money would not be as useful.

This means that the mechanism that deals most directly with the proto-incentive of securing access to resources is regulated across the world. In fact, very few people would suggest we de-regulate money from nation-states (crypto-hype babble notwithstanding).

However, mechanisms that tackle other proto-incentives (such as likes) are not viewed in the same light. Instead, these mechanisms are left to the free-market entirely. Examples include social media companies that can hand out status within tribes.

The counter-question then becomes why are we treating one mechanism for proto-incentive satisfaction so differently from another? The easy answer is convenience, but it’s not a good enough answer — especially when there’s so little conversation around this topic.

“That’s still theory — how would regulation work in practice & how could it help the common man?”

Let’s specifically think through how a government can work with the other proto-incentives to lead to better outcomes for the masses.

The most obvious gap (to me at least) seems to be tied with solutions around the last three proto-incentives mentioned. As a public policy maker (or a future revolutionary) — here are some questions worth thinking about:

Proto-incentive : Access to tribes & focus on gaining status (ability to impact change) within that tribe

- Can governments “tax” status (without involving money)? For example many influencers have a huge reach, what if governments forced them to “donate” some of their posts (proxy for access to tribe & status) towards achieving particular objectives useful for society

- Can governments incentivize people to perform certain actions in exchange for access to a closed-community or tribe of its citizens

Proto-incentive: Improving tribe’s access to resources considered important

- Can the government incentivize tribes of people to work on issues that are considered important (for the nation), and in return grant them government-approved priority in accessing different resources.

This could be a particularly good strategy in instances when the free-market doesn’t price externalities. For example, planting trees is an activity that does not generate too much money for the planter. But most people would agree it is an extremely useful activity in the long-term. What if we gave a five-year decision-making authority wrt specific forests only to those organisations that had the greatest impact in repopulating a particular forest. Keeping money out of the equation altogether.

Proto-incentive: Improving the tribe’s ability to impact change (relative to other tribes)

- What are the ways the government can improve the tribe’s ability to impact change compared to other tribes?

For example, can we allow certain tribes (who fulfil a criteria) to propagate their ideas faster & more effectively than other tribes?

Here are just a couple of thoughts on how this could be done (I understand some of the ideas below could be dangerous, but they serve simply to illustrate the existence of alternative incentivization):

  1. Could we incentivize people’s actions by promising them unfair advantages of reach. For example, we could allow certain tribes special access to future citizens of the world. A tribe’s stories (tribal SoSW) could be included in the syllabus of 5th graders for a 2 year period, in exchange for services provided to the nation.

2. Being incorrect is never good for a tribe’s standing. And while we all believe we’re right, there is some anxiety about being wrong as well. But what if certain actions gave you a “get out of jail free” card in real life (at least for certain crimes). I would imagine this itself would be plenty motivation for organizations to take actions without needing money.

Is this guy insane?

I wouldn’t be surprised if that question is what’s going through you head. And I’ll be the first to admit that some of these ideas seem impractical or “out-there”.

However, the point of this whole article was not to present ready-to-implement solutions, but rather frame the problem of incentivization in a way that allows us to expand our solution-space. To test if it is possible to set up systems of incentivization (at scale) that go beyond money.

It is perfectly fine if we decide to continue sticking with our current systems, but it is imperative that we at least understand all the options available.

This is especially true as our current money-focused economic system is becoming increasingly unsustainable for the entire planet & will always lead to inequalities that can threaten to topple established governing systems.

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Writing about topics I find interesting & original. Usually a mix of philosophy, evolutionary psychology & technology

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Vichar Mohio

Vichar Mohio

Writing about topics I find interesting & original. Usually a mix of philosophy, evolutionary psychology & technology

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