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Saturday, October 20, 2007



From the Times today-really good thought applicable to Torre and the rest of us who do our best:

Op-Ed Contributor
Bonus Babies
Published: October 24, 2007

SO Joe Torre is gone. Despite his tremendous success as manager of the New York Yankees, last week the team made him an offer he couldn’t accept, and he turned them down. Was it the pay cut? Perhaps, a little. Was it the insistence on a one-year contract? Perhaps, a little. But what seemed to bother Torre most were the incentives — bonuses of $1 million — for getting the team to the World Series. These incentives, he said, showed a lack of trust. They were insulting.

Torre was right. It is insulting to be offered incentives like these. What, after all, are the incentives for? They’re for doing his job as well as he can. The offer of a bonus implies that without it, the employee would just be mailing it in.

It is true, of course, that people work for money, and if they weren’t getting paid, they wouldn’t work at all. But people aren’t working only for money. They are also working because they think their work serves a purpose, or they are devoted to excellence, or they love what they do. When you offer people bonuses for doing their jobs, you are telling them that money is not just one of many reasons to work, but the only reason.

But the insult Torre feels for being offered a bonus for doing something few baseball managers can do is nothing compared with the insult that New York City teachers should be feeling right now. At the same time Torre was being given the offer he couldn’t accept, the city announced that it will start offering bonuses to teachers whose students perform well on standardized tests. In other words, teachers can’t be trusted to do their jobs without bonuses. How insulting can you get?

And beyond the insult, such an incentive scheme is an effort to fix a structural problem on the cheap. If teachers are thwarted by their working conditions, then we need to fix the conditions, and not try to paper over them with bonuses. There are settings in which bonuses may make sense — if the work offers no opportunity to find satisfaction, for instance, or if it really is all about the money. And yes, there should be public acknowledgment of extraordinary performance. But that acknowledgment needn’t be financial, and it certainly shouldn’t be contractual.

The more society embraces the idea that nobody will do anything right unless it pays, the more true it will become that nobody does anything right unless it pays. And this is no way to run a ballclub, a school system, or a country.

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