South Africa: Market Norms Versus Social Norms for Conservation - How Not to Shoot Yourself in the Foot


For environmentalists and conservationists encouraging altruism and voluntary co-operation is vital in dealing with challenges in the sector. But, by slavishly adopting market norms they can also shoot themselves in the foot.

The behavioural economist, Dan Ariely relays an interesting story of how social norms are overtaken by market norms and getting social norms back in became nay impossible.

Ariely was referring to a shift in attitude when parents were fined for picking their children up late from school. The school thought by fining the parents there would be a change in behaviour. The opposite became the norm.

Behaviour did change but not for the better: the parents were willing to absorb the cost and simply make the calculus that being late is okay as the burden of looking after the kids in their absence can be left to the school - the fine being turned into an inadvertent useful pay-off for late-coming.

Other behavioural experiments Ariely conducted with fellow colleagues also throw up how market norms can ruin or reduce voluntarism and altruistic effort once market norms take over.

Ariely's example is a useful representation of how market norms, if not thought through carefully, can subvert social norms and...

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