What If More Money Makes People Less Inclined To Create?

from the promoting-what-progress? dept

The entire premise behind copyright law is that by making sure there is enough financial remuneration, people will be more interested in creating more great content. The argument of those who push for ever stronger copyright law is always based on this very premise, with the often explicit claim being "if artists can't make enough money making art, they'll do something else instead," while suggesting that would be a net negative to society. Now I'm all for artists making money and being able to create more art. It's why I spend so much time discussing business models that work for those artists. But what if that entire concept -- that we need this monetary incentive to create -- is bunk?

Peter Friedman points us to a short piece by Malcolm Gladwell, discussing the findings of Dan Pink in his new book Drive, which compiles tons of scientific research on motivation -- and finds that money can actually hinder, rather than help, the incentives to create:
His jumping-off point is the academic work done over the past few decades that consistently shows that financial rewards hinder creativity. These studies have been around for a while. But Pink follows through on their implications in a way that is provocative and fascinating. The way we structure organizations and innovation, after all, almost always assumes that the prospect of financial reward is the prime human motivator. We think that the more we pay people, the better results we'll get. But what if that isn't true? What the research shows, instead, is that the great wellspring of creativity is intrinsic motivation--that is, I do my best work for personal rewards (out of love or intellectual fulfillment) and not external motivation (money).
Indeed, the more you think about this, the more obvious it becomes. There are lots of reasons why people do things, and economic motivation is for marginal benefit, which some (bad) economists equate directly to cash. But many people value other things much more than cold hard cash -- and it's quite interesting to see that the pursuit of money may actually hinder aspects of creativity.

Again, this is not to say artists should not get paid. I'm very much in favor of business models where artists do get paid. But it absolutely calls into question the very central argument for copyright, and suggests that, if anything, copyright may hinder the incentive to create, rather than promote it. This is a big, big deal -- and if we had an evidence-based copyright regime, rather than a faith-based one, it's something that Congress would consider. Tragically, that seems quite unlikely any time soon.

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  1. identicon
    Wes, 16 Apr 2010 @ 10:41am

    Not mentioned in your post: the effect unnecessary rewards have on extremely popular artists.

    Artists work for money, but at some point the amount of money earned will have a negative effect on production, ie. artists that have already made millions may decline to do more work.

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