Caveman Books

The Caveman Explores Economics & Politics

Thoughts About Economics

Part I.


Part III, The Overall Model

Part IV How Much Cash Is Needed In An Economy?

Part V, Money Needed ... Determined By Production Increases

Part VI, How Do Profits Impact ... An Economy?

Part VII Assets

Part VIII Summary

Part IX, Money and Fractional ... Reserve Banking

Part X, Government

Caveman Articles


Government and Taxes

Creating Money & Inflation

Tax Rates VS. Tax Receipts

Taxing The Rich

Government Debt

Government Stimulus






Behavior Rehabilitation: Rewards vs. Punishment


Most of the world seems to be moving away from strong punishment as a means to rehabilitate bad behavior. Is this a step in the right direction? Letís look at how humans learn.



If we think of a solitary individual, maybe a lone caveman, who is learning to survive in the wild. His lessons come in two ways, either success or failure. If he is stealthy, perhaps he can sneak up on a goose and his success means a reward of dinner tonight. If on the other hand he is not so stealthy and he makes a noise that frightens away the goose, his punishment is a hungry stomach.


If the world were perfect, our caveman would not be stealthy and he still would have dinner every night, but he would never learn anything. The world in not perfect and the geese have a say-so as well. They will soon learn that an unusual noise means danger and they better scatter. So the geese learn from the punishment of getting killed while the hunter gets educated by being hungry.


You might say that the geese need to be cautious all the time, but they also need to eat. So it is a tradeoff of being vulnerable to the death sentence vs. being hungry. The hunter likewise might be so quiet that he never gets out to where the geese are. So he is hungry if he is too noisy and he also might go hungry if he is too quiet. Life is full of tradeoffs.


But what does this say in general about how people learn? Generally people learn through a combination of reward and punishment, usually involving some trade-offs in the process. The hunter wants to be just quiet enough that he can catch a goose often enough to succeed with dinner, but not so quiet that he never gets around to catching a goose.


Generally, people do not learn if they fail or are punished all the time and they donít learn if they succeed all the time, either. The latter usually means they are not trying hard enough to do something new. If they always succeed, they might only be doing the same thing over and over. That is hardly learning.



Schools are places that seem to abhor punishment. Good grades might be a reward though at the grammar school age, children might not think grades are the most important thing in life. Punishment is largely left up to parents and only after a considerable time passes from the event. We can blame teachers or their unions, the lack of adequate funding or whatever, but for the last 60 years, the answer might be in how reward and punishment is used.


The potential of computers in schools is that mistakes or wrong approaches can be corrected immediately. But even there, what is the reward and punishment? Rewards donít have to mean ice cream cones and punishment doesnít have to mean a slap with the ruler. But little seems to be studied about what might motivate children.



Society has also developed laws so that people know how to live with one another without violating anotherís liberty. And society has also developed a punishment system in case someone violates those laws. But society has not developed a reward system for people. The only reward is avoiding punishment. Of course, most people develop their own reward systems which benefits society and themselves. Having a home is a great reward for working hard and saving money.


But those who somehow get off on the wrong foot and violate a law have only the punishment system to set them back on a good course. That seems wrong-headed when we know that it takes both rewards and punishment to change peopleís behavior and education. Once a person has stumbled into the criminal justice system, the probability of rewards for good behavior are severely diminished.


With recidivism at such a high rate, why not spend money on a reward system for criminals? Couldnít we spend less in the long run?



Time is of the essence in punishment, for sure, and rewards as well. In schools, papers that are corrected weeks later are of little benefit to the student in either reward or punishment. Likewise in the criminal justice system, if the criminal doesnít get caught for months or years and the trial takes another few years, the punishment aspects are lessened. An effective learning program should have immediate (or nearly so) responses.


Supposedly in America, we have a right to a speedy trial. The guilty person isnít looking for speed. Only society suffers as a result. In technology or manufacturing, speed is of the essence, yet nothing exists to motivate the administrators for quicker responses to students or to speed up criminal proceedings. Efficiency has never found its way into these fields.



The traditional way that people learn is not a part of either educational or criminal justice systems. It should be as human nature suggests that rewards and punishment are a fundamental part of life. Why not use it to our advantage?

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