The Flinchum File

Thoughtful Economic Analysis and Existential Opinions
Subscribe to the Flinchum File
View Archives

The Cost of Being Civilized?

08/10/2012

My first assignment as a graduate assistant years ago was to research and teach a class on a theory of motivation by Victor Vroom from the University of Michigan.  His theory was a giant step forward in the ability to “quantify” motivation.  Basically, it says my motivation to do something is a function of (1) how bad I want it to do it and (2) how strongly I believe my efforts to do it will be successful.  For example, I may really want to beat Tiger Woods in golf, but I don’t think my efforts will be successful.  Therefore, I am not motivated to do something I really want.

One of last week’s headlines really stuck with me and made me wonder if there is a third factor when a person is motivated to do something illegal.

The IRS admitted they paid out $5 BILLION last year to identity thieves, and they expect that loss to continue into the future.

Now, suppose I want to make a lot money easily and suppose I believe my efforts to get rich stealing someone’s identity will be successful, then I am very motivated to do so, right?

However, what are the consequences of my actions?  Is there a third variable to be motivated to break the law?  Wouldn’t severe jail time or even the death penalty reduce the relationship between the variables in Vroom’s theory?  Shouldn’t his theory be re-stated to say my motivation to do something is a function of (1) how bad I want to do it and (2) how strongly I believe my efforts to do it will be successful and (3) do I really believe there will be negative consequences to my efforts?

Apparently, identity thieves don’t believe there will be negative consequences, which means we can continue to expect billions of dollars in additional losses each year.  I suspect that is a small down payment to the cost of being civilized.  Could we discourage identity thieves and other criminals with a few public executions?  Of course, but wouldn’t we then be less civilized?

At what point does the cost of being civilized exceed the benefits of being civilized? 

We are a fee-only advisor providing best interest fiduciary services to clients
in Chesapeake, Newport News, Norfolk, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, and the surrounding areas of Hampton Roads.

CONTACT BAY CAPITAL ADVISORSWe Will Respond Promptly

Contact Us Bottom