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Let’s Hope This Is Not the Best Organ-Donor Incentive Proposed This Year

Congress has taken note of the shortage of donated organs, and has proposed an incentive to increase donation: a commemorative medal to honor organ donors. Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution sums it up thusly: “Millions for medals but not a cent for compensation.”

I am sure the congressmen and senators mean well, and we here at Freakonomics are firm believers that not all incentives need be financial to work, but I’m not sure this proposal passes even the laugh test. Just ask yourself: if you are on the fence about donating an organ, does the thought of a commemorative medal sway your opinion at all?

I wouldn’t think so. I’m sure the first handful of donors would receive a lot of coverage and positive attention, but after the novelty wears off, I am guessing that the reward of a medal would seem far too slight to significantly increase donations.

This also reminds me of what I call “trophy inflation,” whereby every kid in every sports class in America now receives a “participation” trophy. With a shelf full of participation trophies, the ones you get for actually winning something don’t seem so special.