A long time ago, in an apartment building far, far away, we had a neighbor who was a former pizza delivery ace.
She got pretty good at it. The pizza company had regional contests for fast delivery. The winners got big bonuses — brass rings worth jumping pretty high for. So she took crazy risks getting the pizza out to the customers fast fast fast. If I remember the story right, she did win one of those bonuses. Something like $500 back when a hundred dollars was worth something, in a town where some people worked for $6.50 an hour.
One day, driving fast on her way with a pizza, she spun out. Empty road, no other drivers, no pedestrians, just herself, unhurt. Herself coming to a stop at a funny angle in the middle of the road. Sitting still in the car in the middle of that road suddenly thinking hard about what is worth how much in this life.
She was grateful she’d been alone when it happened.
After that she kept delivering but stopped taking the crazy risks.
She got into other work when she could. When we met her she had left the pizza game behind. She was working with horses.
So I guess you could say, and our old neighbor might, that the lesson is not to forget your own conscience and safety in striving for a prize.
Another lesson, maybe, is that it’s wrong to offer employment rewards that pit people against their own decency, common sense and longer-term interests.
This all comes to mind in light of some thoughts about the “sharing economy”. The way it creates incentives for people to jump at the next available paid task or other “sharing” opportunity. The way it forces the jumpers to absorb, as a private problem, whatever the costs of those jumps may be.
That’s not good for people, not good for the public.
A healthy economy doesn’t run on brass rings.