As it is hard to philosophize without examples, we shall suggest some of these common and desirable conditions for the purpose of mental exercise or discussion:
· Having a clean environment
· Having good health
· Eliminating hunger and poverty
Most people would agree that these are desirable conditions for themselves to have. Most people would also agree that these are desirable conditions for others to have. Where people may disagree is the degree of help they would give to others in order for the others to enjoy these conditions, or the degree of sacrifice they are willing to make in order for others to enjoy these conditions.
Note that one can define a set of goals that all human beings desire, to various degrees of relative weighting factors, such that this set also includes all Public Good goals, although some people may give a near-zero weight to some of these Public Good goals. In other words, every human being has a set of goals that potentially affect his behavior. If these goals are quantifiable or at the minimum be comparable, a person’s behavior may be formulated as the multi-attribute objective function Z.
Z = sum of wi * Gi (1)
Gi is a goal and
wi is the weighting factor associated with the goal.
At the base of these human feelings about these goals is the self-preservation animal instinct. Why should I help others when they are my competitors for survival? Human beings became masters of the Earth by rising above the purely selfish behavior. Through thousands of years of evolution, human beings have come to realize that there is a net benefit to the group to share if individuals come together to work as a group. By hunting or farming together, more food is obtained or produced, and the risk of an individual starving is also reduced.
Note that this is a realization that the individual’s objective function Z is a summation over self-preserving goals as well as over public goals whereby the achieving of a public goal would provide tangible or perceived values to the individual. But each individual may have different weighting factors for the self-preserving goals and for the public goals, and therefore they would behave differently.
A modified formulation of the multi-attribute incentive model is as follows:
Z = sum of siSi + sum of pjPj (2)
Si is a Self goal,
si is the weighting factor,
Pj is a Public goal,
pj is the weighting factor.
In this framework, one way to define the difference between Public goal and Self goal could be based on the number of individuals who would benefit from such a goal. For example, if only one person would benefit, it is clearly a Self goal to that individual only and clearly not considered a Public goal. If all individuals within a community’s boundary would benefit, it is clearly a Public goal. However, even in this situation, the space and time of the scope of the benefit may not cover all individuals at all time. It is therefore evident that it is not possible in some cases to draw a bright line between a Public goal and a Self goal by looking at the beneficiaries.
Another approach may be to define it based on the ownership of the matter (in the sense of atoms) which will be impacted by the achievement of the goal in question. For example, the air or the atmosphere is affected by the goal to achieve clean air. Who owns the atmosphere, the Public or an individual entity (person or a business entity)? Another example – take a goal of increasing oil production. Is it a Public goal or a Self goal? The affected matters include the land and vegetation above the oil wells, the atmosphere, the stability of the ground and the quality of the water adjacent to the oil wells. Who owns these impacted matters? The oil company may own or have the rights to certain portions of these matters, but not all of them. Unless the oil company takes on the full responsibility for neutralizing all impacts on those portions of matters it does not own, it would seem that oil production has both Self impact and Public impact.
This raises the question of how a goal should be defined. Increasing oil production is an activity, not a basic goal. Rather, it is a means to a more basic goal. Perhaps the more basic goal is to make profit for the oil company. That profit or the money is the matter that will be affected by the goal of profit making. Who owns that money? The company, i.e., the corporate entity. By drawing the line between the public and the business entity / individual, this makes the goal of profit making by that oil company a Self goal.
The debate will continue as to how one could define Public goal versus Self goal. However, it is not critical for moving forward on the concept. Ultimately, the weighting factors in Equations (1) or (2) to each decision maker are what matter to that decision. These weighting factors are mostly subjective, until it is possible to convert all attributes into a single denomination, which would be, for all practical purposes, the monetary value.
Coming back to the subject of human incentives, despite technological progress and the global economic boom through human history, the scarcity mentality persists. There may be tribal unity, but then one tribe would fight with another tribe over food or resources. Even today, this mentality persists between nations, between corporations, between ethnic and religious groups, and to a degree between individuals in the same community.
The multi-attribute incentive model of Equation (1) is not very effective in modifying the ingrained behavior of human beings. The reason is that self-directed and tangible benefits are real while public good does not translate into exclusive, self-directed and tangible benefits. You may have to enjoy it with others and it may not have immediate or direct effects because the effect can only be observed in the long term. Furthermore, creating that public good may require your sacrificing and reducing your direct benefits in other areas.
In keeping with the modified multi-attribute incentive model of Equation (2), visionary leaders try to develop social mechanisms to create more public good. Two paths were taken. The first is by law and order. The second is by religions.
Organizations (including governments) are set up by people or their leaders to unite people and to compete with other organizations. Rules and laws are set up to maintain order and to resolve conflicts. This system is a system of “sticks”, a system generally of punishment.
Religions are set up by visionaries to motivate people to do good things, either by appealing to people’s idealism or by setting up rules or commandments. It is a system of sticks and carrots. For example, if you commit a sin, you will go to Hell; if you do good acts, you will go to Heaven. But the carrots are usually not material gains in this world. By making promises for spiritual gains, from an economics perspective, religions are writing checks that can only be cashed or found to be void after death. But are these incentives effective in producing more Public Good, or greater Unity in Diversity? With the world’s continual violent conflicts and world poverty, etc., after several thousand years of recorded human history, it is hard to argue that such incentives are effective, or at least sufficient.