Cash on Delivery: Gee, why didn’t someone think of that before?

It is always useful when thinking of educational issues and development (i.e., social learning) to recall the fundamental distinctions about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Most bad ideas in education and development involve some scheme based on extrinsic and even blatantly pecuniary motivation—positive or negative. As one of the best recent philosophers of education put it:

“In this way, we have discovered the carrot, the stick, the blinder, the shoe, the collar, the bit, the curb, and many other refinements…. We need to remind ourselves that all these kinds of things…have been in the public domain for a long time, and that we should replace the patent office with an institute for the study of educational antiquities.” [Hawkins, David 2000. The Roots of Literacy. Boulder: University Press of Colorado. p. 43]

Just as one such fad, such as “results-based aid,” starts to fade raising the hope that perhaps there was some learning in the development business, the same idea re-emerges with changed rhetoric, e.g., “cash-on-delivery aid.” So many development commentators over the decades have demonstrated their incomprehension of the subtleties of development aid by modeling it on the idea of “vaccinating children” that this example has become a punch-line for jokes about development naïveté. But today I see in the New York Times the breathless new idea of “cash-on-delivery aid” to pay developing countries so much cash for each child vaccinated![1]

Money is important only as a means to do what people are already intrinsically motivated to do. But when one suggests using monetary or other extrinsic awards to provide the motivation itself (“the carrot”), then one should take a course in the “institute for the study of educational antiquities” to see all the ways it will go wrong.