Economists Do It With Models

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A Semantics Lesson, And A Fun Web Site For You…

April 23rd, 2009 · 5 Comments
Incentives · Just For Fun

I feel like the following story should somehow fit under the category of incentives, but I’m not sure how exactly. I’ll give it some thought. In the meantime:

When I was two and a half, I asked my mother if I could put a raisin up my nose. My mother, being an English teacher and not one to treat me like a little kid, chose that moment to introduce me to the difference between “can” and “may”. As such, she replied with “Well, you CAN…but you MAY not.” Obviously, I had raisins up my nose before she had finished her sentence, and her attempt at a lesson was rewarded with a trip to the hospital. (On another note, hi Mom! She tells me she reads my web site, but I suppose now we’ll find out for sure. 🙂 )

The reason that I thought about this today is that I was perusing the latest on Jessica Hagy’s “Indexed” site and came across the following, entitled “You may not, but you can.”:

Hmmm…now that I think about it, I see how it is relevant to incentives. So I think my mother would have had a better outcome if she had ordered her rules in the way that Jessica did, with the “may not” coming first. The lesson then is to keep in mind that sometimes people act before they read or hear all of the rules, so it matters which rules you put out there first.

Tags: Incentives · Just For Fun

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tom // Apr 23, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    i disagree, and for two reasons. first is the old roman dictum: “ignorance of the law is no excuse”. and the other reason i disagree is that if a rational person cant wait and realize the difference (this isnt including 5 year olds) then i dont think theyd do any better regardless of what order the rules are presented in.

  • 2 Mom // Apr 25, 2009 at 6:45 am


  • 3 Mom // Apr 25, 2009 at 8:12 am

    Just a thought—we might have had a better short-term outcome, but if you want to maximize a child’s long-term development of creativity, independence, curiosity, you don’t lead with the rules. I’ll leave the incentives connection–if any–of this comment to you. 🙂

  • 4 Frederick // Apr 28, 2009 at 3:26 am

    Your mix of econ and comedy is a rare gift. Use it to your advantage. I was laughing as I pictured my own daughter’s doing this when they were little.

  • 5 Frederick // Apr 28, 2009 at 3:27 am

    *typo, I meant to day “daughters.”

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