Published: April 25, 2012

By Jim Lichtman
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When was the last time I devoted an entire commentary to citizenship? I don’t know.

do know that while I’m sitting here waiting to be called for jury duty, I’m thinking about the hundred other more satisfying things I could be doing with my time. I’m also reminded of the frustration I feel when I’m seated in the jury box, am interviewed by both counsels only to be tossed when they learn that I write and speak on ethics. I recently asked an attorney-friend, “Which side do you think will toss me first?”

His response, “Whichever side feels ethically weakest.”

Civic virtue and citizenship not only asks us to serve on a jury, but includes testifying as a witness, voting, paying taxes, reporting crimes, protecting the environment by minimizing waste and pollution, as well as careful reflection on political issues and individuals that affect us all.

Civic duties include such things as supporting a candidate, running for public office, giving time or money to a worthy charity, and serving your community in a variety of socially conscious ways.

In essence, citizenship is extending yourself beyond your own interests to support the community and country you live in. From an ethical standpoint, all of this is good, public service, but it can be time-consuming, and admittedly, more than a little boring as you’re waiting to be called for jury duty.

However, what if citizenship were fun?

“As every successful parent learns, one way to encourage good behavior, from room-cleaning to tooth-brushing, is to make it fun,” writes Thaler, a professor of economics and behavioral science at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago.

“In this spirit,” Thaler says, “the Swedish division of Volkswagen has sponsored an initiative they call The Fun Theory. Their first project is documented in a highly popular (and fun) You Tube. The idea was to get people to use a set of stairs rather than the escalator that ran alongside it. By transforming the stairs into a piano-style keyboard such that walking on the steps produced notes, they made using the stairs fun, and they found that stair use increased by 66 percent.

“The musical stairs idea is more amusing than practical, so The Fun Theory sponsored a contest to generate other ideas. The winning entry suggested offering both positive and negative reinforcement to encourage safe driving. Specifically, a camera would measure the speed of passing cars. Speeders would be issued fines but some of the fine revenues would be distributed via lottery to drivers who were observed obeying the speed limit. A short test of the idea offered promising results.

“This example illustrates an important behavioral point: many people love lotteries.

“New Taipei City in Taiwan recently initiated a lottery as an inducement for dog owners to clean up after their pets. Owners who deposited dog waste into a special depository were made eligible for a lottery to win gold ingots, thus literally turning dog waste into gold. The top prize was worth about $2,000. The city reports that it halved the fecal pollution in its streets during the initiative.”

However, Thaler points to one application that may be particularly effective.

“Lotteries may also serve as effective motivators toward better health. A group of scholars including Kevin G. M. Volpp, a physician and social scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, ran an experiment to encourage the employees at a health care management company to undertake a health risk assessment. One group of employees was offered a 25 percent chance to win $100 as an inducement to participate. The lottery was an effective motivator, increasing participation by about 20 percentage points.

“An alternative to lotteries,” Thaler adds, “is a frequent-flyer-type reward program, where the points can be redeemed for something fun.”

Now, I realize that virtue should be its own reward, but if lotteries can be used to raise additional money for schools, why not for better health care? Maybe if they put a higher premium on a particular waiting room seat for jury duty, I could not only live up to my responsibilities as a citizen, but I could make a few extra bucks in the process!


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