Should Government Pay People to Make Good Decisions?

A health crisis in Alabama led officials to an unconventional solution: Hand out cash to change citizen behavior.

by / March 8, 2018

There are lots of things governments do to nudge citizens toward making certain decisions. Whether it’s getting parents to vaccinate their kids, trying to get residents to reduce their energy consumption or persuading high schoolers to enroll in college, governments try to guide citizen behavior in a certain way on a whole host of issues.

But what if the nudge doesn’t work? What if it’s not enough to encourage citizens to take a certain action -- even when that action is in their own best interest?

In a small but growing number of cases, some governments have taken the controversial next step of actually paying citizens to make good decisions. These places are reimbursing residents for doing something that -- in theory -- they ought to be doing anyway. That’s the situation the state of Alabama found itself in during a health crisis a few years ago.

It’s an unconventional idea, but it’s one that’s slowly catching on in governments across the United States. And it’s the subject of the latest episode of Governing’s new podcast on innovative public-sector solutions, "Go Public."

Listen below or subscribe and leave a review on Apple Podcasts.




Follow the show on Twitter @gopublicpod.

Mattie Quinn Staff Writer

Mattie covers all things health for Governing. A native of Arkansas, she graduated with her M.S. from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism with a focus on public health reporting. Her work has been published in National Geographic, New York Magazine and The Atlantic.