The term ’incentive’ is not peculiar to economics alone, it is a general term used in many spheres of life. However, in economics, it is a very important word. In fact you can never study economics successfully without understanding what incentives are. One American economist says that economics in its entirety is a study of people’s response to incentives. Whether that statement is accurate or not is subject to one’s point of view, but what comes out clearly is the fact that incentives are truly central to the study of economics.
A dictionary definition of an incentive is ‘something that motivates you to do something’. In economics one can say that an incentive is a benefit, reward, or cost that motivates an economic action. Human beings do things deliberately and purposefully, and, naturally, people expect to benefit from their own decisions and actions. Before someone decides to produce something and sell it to people, they should have taken time to think and decide that doing this will help them earn something. Likewise, before a consumer buys anything, they know (or at least they think) that they are going to benefit from the product. In strict sense, it is more than just the usual concepts or trade and economics, it is about human nature. No one does something for no reason. Not when they have to spend time and resources in doing so.
Types of incentives
Incentives can be grouped into four main categories, or types. These types of incentives apply both to economics and to other spheres of life.
Perhaps in the modern times, financial incentives are more dominant. Before you get to business, you know that it is always about profit. Employment is all about salary and remuneration. It is true that sometimes people do voluntary jobs for some reasons other than financial ones. But ultimately, the main reason why human beings do business or work at all in modern days is money. It is this type of incentive that informs the idea of product promotions, where people are told that if they buy a certain product; they stand a chance of winning a certain amount of money.
Moral incentives motivate people to do things on the basis of right and wrong. People are encouraged to do certain action because morally, it is the right thing to do. Aspects of morality today are quite diverse, varying broadly from one society to the next, and it is practically impossible to define morals of society in general. Moral incentives therefore generally appeal to an individual’s own conscience.
“What will happen if I do this?” We often ask ourselves. Humans are naturally curious creatures, and we do many things for no reason other than to find out what the consequences are.
Coercive investments emphasize on the consequences of not doing something, rather than the benefit of doing it.A good example is blackmail. You are warned to do something or risk being beaten up, or being reported to your seniors. That is a coercive incentive.