The constant gardener

First of all, I tell you that one of the central ideas is not mine, but from a professor at a University where I teach when I have time, Universidad del CEMA.

Again, I will start with a driving example. It happens that I found a lot of examples while driving, probably because I have plenty of time to think about what is happening around me.

In Buenos Aires the transit is chaotic. I know: there are cities worse than mine in that aspect, but I live here and the example applies very well to other sites. I remember hearing the thoughts of an actor visiting BA, when the reporter asked about his feelings on this city. He said ‘I don’t know why you bother to paint the lines on the street, nobody cares!’. I agree. Almost nobody cares, but it is enough that only a few percentage do not care to generate this chaos.

That is what characterizes the transit in BA: there are more than a few drivers that don’t respect the laws. Probably is only a matter of obtaining benefits over the rest of the “group”, as I wrote in a former comment (A beautiful mind), but I am falling short if assigning all the responsability to sellfishness.

In my country die more than 20 people per day because of transit accidents. Not all of them are because the same problem, but I assign a very big number of them to one common cause: there are insufficient punishment for breaking the laws.

In the movie “The constant gardener”, some people were killed because they started to sniff around a pharmaceutical company testing new drugs in people at a country in Africa. The risk of punishment there for any of the crimes (the killing of some main characters and the killing of the africans who were using the drugs) was so low, that there was no incentive to act differently. Before anyone yell, of course it depends on your own values, way before the incentives (that will be matter of another blog entry).

The worst punishment one can receive because killing someone in an accident (providing it is not demonstrated that it was deliberate) is the indemnization you must pay in a civilian trial. And it is here where I am using the ideas from the paper: that amount is a number of pesos (my country’s currency) calculated based on the worth of the live of that person, which happens to be so low that the incentive to do the right thing is almost null. But even that situation have diminished risks under some circumstances, if you are a person with power, connections or lack of repentance.

As before, I will try to connect this to the attitudes at a job or in the society.

I live in a regulated world, where I supposedly receive benefits, provided I obey some rules. At the job, I am given a pay for doing some tasks according to some rules. If I don’t perform the tasks or do them against the rules, I should not receive the pay. Sorry to say this, but that applies only to some people and not to others. Some people know that the risk of not receiving the pay, or even being fired, is extremely low under some very known circumstances: if they are in a certain position (the power position), if they have a boss or a union that protects them (the right connections) or if their behavior was deliberate to benefit some person (lack of repentance) who can protect them, even hurting others.

There must be a balanced amount of prize and punishment, and both must be applied with the same rules for everyone. To live in a society or to work in a company means you are part of the system, there are a lot of people that depend on you doing the things you ought to and according to certain rules. You can not go through the live crashing people with your car just because you know nobody can punish you; in any moment, someone can crash you, knowing that he will not be pursued for doing it.

See you soon.

Diego :D

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