What Makes People Do What They Do?

John List and Uri Gneezy have appeared on our blog many times. This guest post is part a series adapted from their new book The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life. List appeared in our recent podcast "How to Raise Money Without Killing a Kitten."

Money is important. For a long time, economists thought that it was the only thing that mattered. And, in fact, if you want people to do what you want, money can be incredibly useful. Out to entice the best workers? Pay more. Want to sell a product? Discount it, a lot. Want to discourage a bad behavior? Impose a monetary fine.

It seemed a little silly to us though (as well as to other behavioral economists doing work back in the 1990s) to think that money was the only thing that mattered. So we set out to learn exactly when and how monetary incentives work. Along the way, we discovered some environments where incentives don’t work at all. 

Markets in the Air

I stumbled on this nifty business idea, Nanny in the Clouds, to create a market in the air for nannies. Think match.com, but for wanna-be-nannies and parents on airplanes.

A clear market failure: people on flights with kids want some help; other people on flights want to make some money taking care of kids. Social norms don’t really allow for instantaneous markets to appear (“hey, for $10 I’ll watch your kid for the next two hours so that you can take a nap” is unlikely to get many takers, I suspect). But prearranged, where the norm adheres to our expectations in the babysitter market, and we have a market helping make trades otherwise not made.  

Here is how it works: Sign up on the website, put in the flight you’re going to take, and see if any parents (nannies) signed up and are looking for a nanny (parent who wants a nanny) on the same flight. Negotiate your rates directly, and pay Nanny in the Clouds $10 if the match is made.