The keeper’s cottage, Highgate Wood

David Dobbs

Typos courtesy of thumbs and iPhone


Marbury: cutting the pay of public sector execs may improve their quality

Local councils are being forced to cut back on everything including and especially on the salaries of their senior executives. You might think this means hiring less qualified or less competent people to fill those roles. But a new study from Bournemouth University Business School suggests that it may lead to the opposite result: higher-performing executives.

Psychologists talk about two different types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is reliant on external rewards, most importantly financial, but also status, perks, and so on. Intrinsic motivation what keeps people going even when these rewards are low or non-existent: it’s the sheer satisfaction and enjoyment of doing a job well. Most people are motivated by factors on both side of the equation but the balance varies from job to job and person to person.

Public sector organisations ought to be looking for people who have very high levels of intrinsic motivation – who see their job as a calling, more than a means of making money. There is evidence to suggest, however, that by offering big salaries they are less likely to attract such people:

Using British longitudinal data, we find that individuals are attracted to the public sector by the intrinsic rather than the extrinsic rewards that the sector offers. We also find evidence supporting the intrinsic motivation crowding out hypothesis, in that, higher extrinsic rewards reduce the propensity of intrinsically motivated individuals to accept public sector employment. 

Oddly, the researchers only found this effect in higher education and the NHS. I haven’t bought access to the whole paper so I can’t tell you why that might be. But this report might offer a scrap of comfort to local councillors who are trying to attract quality people with very little in the pot from which to pay them.

Some intriguing behavioral economics via Marbury. Doubtless there’s a bottom limit here — a pay so low it repels competent people. But it makes sense to me that paying as if you’re competing for private-sector managers might be aiming at the wrong incentives, and therefore drawing the wrong people.

Playing Doctor: How ghostwriters spin pharma research

Don’t expect ghostwriters to speak up. They are well-paid technicians who perform a specialized service for their clients, often without a whole lot of agonizing about the ethics. Even if writers were to cultivate a little moral anguish, they probably could not do a lot with it. Like lobbyists, public-relations consultants, and hit men, medical writers are instruments in a much larger enterprise. Their moral problem lies in the structure of the job itself.

I like this building

The Woodman

by Highgate Wood, on the year’s second-shortest day

It’s striking that of all the psychotherapies that have ever been developed, CBT is the only one with substantial evidence of clinical efficacy; indeed, it’s similar in effectiveness to good anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac, Wellbutrin, or Effexor. So, I look upon ‘The rational optimist’ as a sort of collective CBT for the chattering classes (and, I hope, for many others too).

Miller on cognitive behavioral therapy | The Rational Optimist… (via Instapaper)

Cognitive behavioral therapy: the rational depressive

CBT is a set of techniques that encourage depressed individuals to challenge their own depressogenic thought patterns and to shift into more optimistic (and realistic) habits of thought. CBT has a particularly scientific flavor, since it challenges the depressed to ask themselves continually — what is the evidence for this view? Are there more realistic alternative perspectives? Who can I ask for a second opinion? What evidence would disprove my assumption? CBT is basically just the scientific method applied to one’s own emotional states.