Distrust, Integrity and Oblique nudges

I suspect from now on I can at best, blog once a month here, if not, once every 2 months. I guess that’a s good sign, that work is fun enough that I want to commit more time and energy to it.

I wonder if Singaporeans just don’t care – is it the system we live in that just doesn’t make us have regard for other people? One of my gut feelings has been that Singaporeans in general don’t really care for other people in the altruistic sense, and the process we’ve designed were not meant for altruism, but to guard against abuse. The implication of designing a system against abuse is that it can end up in a situation where people’s default towards one another becomes mistrust. And when trust frays, a lot of things become difficult.

Viewed in this sense, any multi-step bureaucracy that requires verification is a form of mistrust. Some of it may be justifiable for the sake of accountability, but too many hoops in the way and people give up. To say that, “we need to balance between accountability and efficiency” sets up a bad dichotomy. In my own prejudiced view, there is only integrity, and the trust that people will do the right thing in the overwhelming majority of the time. Most of the time, mistrust-based processes spoils good intentions. How processes are designed, and the default assumptions built in can have long-lasting implications for the health of the system.

I suspect there’s a lot to mine from this way of thinking. This discussion on integrity, mistrust and social values in general is against the grain of talking about policies in terms of incentives and punishments that have been the norm in many of our institutions – public AND private institutions. We assume that prices are the only thing that people respond to, although marketers have also been wildly successful in triggering the emotional-status parts of the brain. I hear the government is going to have another round of fiscal incentives for “procreation”. Maybe the conversations should be away from those incentives (as important as they are) but use other points of entry in an oblique way – having firm anti-discriminatory laws, improve workplace culture, give people the cultural and personal spaces to pursue what they love, instead of constantly pressing the incentive/punish buttons.

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