Strings Attached: Untangling the Ethics of Incentives

Ruth Grant

Grant, political science and philosophy professor and senior fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, offers a history of the growth of incentives in early twentieth-century America, identifies standards for judging incentives, and examines incentives in four areas—plea bargaining, recruiting medical research subjects, International Monetary Fund loan conditions, and motivating students. In every case, the analysis of incentives in terms of power yields strikingly different and more complex judgments than an analysis that views incentives as trades, in which the desired behavior is freely exchanged for the incentives offered. Challenging the role and function of incentives in a democracy, Strings Attached questions whether the penchant for constant incentivizing undermines active, autonomous citizenship.