3.30.2007

Mayor Mike's 'Cash for doing right' Scheme

'Cash for good behavior' schemes have existed in one form or fashion since I can remember. But now according to this story Mayor Michael Bloomberg has raised lots of money to try a scaled up experiment involving 2500 families.

Let's just say that I am deeply skeptical about paying people--poor, rich or middle class--for doing what they ought to be doing anyway. I was once a "recipient'.

While in high school, well-intentioned but misguided people included me in a program that paid me for my grades. The money--raised privately--was doled out in small monthly checks which was put in an envelope with my name on it. It was supposed to give encouragement to disadvantaged but promising minority students to stay on the right track.

I took the envelopes home and dutifully stuffed them in my dresser unopened.

I viewed the payments as an insult. Just because my family was poor didn't mean that I lacked the internal motivation to go to school, finish my homework, stay away from drugs, etc.

That's not to say that I don't support all rewards programs targeted to the poor. For example, it seems to me that what would have worked better in my case would have been prepaid college tuition. Even then the cost of attending a low-cost state college appeared to be virtually impossible financially. The knowledge of a pre-paid tuition as a reward for high school success would have done wonders for me as a person and a student.

The truth about NYC's program is that the folks doling out the money will screen for families that are already motivated in the right ways. The families will collect the money and the Mayor and his people will claim success. But what will have changed?