Average versus Marginal: Blowback Edition
| Peter Klein |
Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul caused a stir recently by suggesting, to the horror of the other Republican candidates, that US foreign policy might have something to do with Muslim anger toward the US. The Bush Administration, of course, maintains that “they hate us for our freedom.” No matter what the US government does, in other words, Islamic extremists will target Americans in retaliation for the Declaration of Independence, McDonalds, and Paris Hilton. (Rudy Giuliani, incredibly, claims he has never even heard of blowback.)
Of course, these explanations are not incompatible. US culture and institutions could, in theory, account for the average level of anti-Americanism in the Islamic world. To explain a specific terrorist act, however, we have to think in marginal terms. What we call “terrorism,” as Robert Pape has brilliantly explained, is a tactic, not an ideology. Whatever his general attitude toward the enemy, the terrorist must choose to attack this target or that, to attack now or later, to select one more target or one less. Even if exogenous US characteristics were responsible for overall terrorist attitudes and beliefs, blowback is probably still the best explanation for specific terrorist acts.
Note that this is an application of a more general point about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, an important issue for management theory.
As discussed frequently on this blog, critics of the economic approach to management such as Kohn, Pfeffer, Sutton, Ferraro, Ghoshal, and Mintzberg hold that workers are primarily motivated by intrinsic rewards and that attempts to mitigate moral hazard and opportunism through explicit incentives are not only unnecessary, but may actually destroy morale and organizational cohesion. Yet there is no inherent contradiction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation could determine the average attitudes of employees toward their employers and occupations even while extrinsic motivation explains their marginal behavior.
For example, I chose to become a professor not because it pays well (it doesn’t), but because I enjoy research and teaching. On the margin, however, I am more likely to teach a specific course, advise a specific student, write a specific paper, or attend a specific conference if I am paid for it. Extrinsic incentives didn’t determine my general career choice, but given that I’m in that career, they have a strong effect on my behavior at the margin.