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In discussing kidney donations, I’ve encountered the argument that offering compensation to donors would be problematic, not just morally, but because it may reduce incentives to donate due to intrinsic motivation declining with payment.

That’s a fine argument, and we’ve seen monetary incentives backfire for sure especially when we try to apply it to non-traditional settings, like perhaps securing a kiss from your date, performance at certain tasks, and so on.

On the other hand, I have also been in conversations with folks who argue that K12 teachers should get paid more because they are so passionate, committed and intrinsically motivated that it is just the right thing to do. Actually, not only is it the right thing to do, the fact that we “underpay” our teachers is emblematic of how far off the rails our society’s priorities have gone. In other words, the intrinsically motivated deserve the highest monetary rewards.

Aside from pointing out the obvious here, I had two beer-ponderance questions: first, would the sentiment about kidneys be symmetric? How would people feel if the default policy was that people paid larger income and estate taxes if they were not kidney donors? From a monetary perspective, such a policy would be the equivalent of “paying” kidney donors, but I am pretty sure that we would see both a different behavior response and moreover we would see a sharper moral philosophical response, with some mental jujitsu saying that this is actually not the same as paying people.

Similarly, is the education argument symmetric? Suppose that rather than paying teachers more, we docked everyone else an additional X% of their income with the exception of teachers. Would this be viewed (as it actually is) as rewarding teachers? Would this undermine the intrinsic motivation for people to become teachers?

Any good theories on: (1) why the case of kidneys and teachers are treated differently? and (2) why the seemingly symmetric questions would likely (in my view) produce different reactions?


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