Taking the Magic
Out of the Markers:
The Hidden Cost
“Work is more fun than fun. ”
—Noel Coward (1899–1973), lyricist and playwright
There is a heartwarming tale about an elderly gentleman who, while feeding pigeons from his favorite park bench, is one day confronted by a mob of surly teenagers. For several minutes, they cruelly make fun of him. He endures the episode stoically, hoping that it will soon be over, and never repeated. Alas, when he returns to his bench the following day, the mob is there again. Indeed, their taunts start to become a regular feature of his visits to the park. The elderly gentleman eventually decides that enough is enough, and hatches a clever plan to put an end to their mischief. The next time they make fun of him, he does something wholly unexpected. He pays each of them a dollar for their trouble. The astonished teenagers conclude that the old guy must be going senile. He continues to show the same unaccountable generosity day after day, and no matter how badly the teenagers treat him, they still get paid. Then one day, without a word of explanation, he abruptly stops distributing cash. His tormenters are outraged. Why should they bother to taunt somebody who pays them nothing for the privilege? With a disdainful air, they part company with him forever. Smiling, the elderly gentleman returns to feeding his pigeons.
Readers may recognize in this anecdote some familiar themes. Remember how smaller incentives can cause larger shifts in opinion (see chap. 6),