Thinking Economics

Thinking Economics

Most human behaviour can be viewed through an economic lens to identify trends, patterns, biases and misconceptions. This column assesses Nigerian behaviour by applying Economics to behaviour and behaviour to Economics.

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What Makes a Law Effective?

Chuba Ezekwesili

Chuba Ezekwesili

Chuba is a data analyst & the co-founder of Akanka - a global design firm.

I observed that immediately you sit at the front of a Lagos bus - popularly known as a Danfo - the conductor requests that you use the seat belt. This seat belt is usually a loose length of material that does nothing to protect you in the event of an accident, so it’s quite puzzling why you’re requested to use it. One day, I finally asked a conductor, and he replied, “LASTMA go arrest us if you no wear seat belt.” This got me thinking, Nigeria is infamous for having rules that get broken without any consequence. However, here was this rule being obeyed with fervour by those who are renowned for causing havoc on the roads. What made this rule effective?

Looking at the intended effect of rules, one sees that obedience to rules is driven by self-preserving incentives that usually differs from the original motive of the individual. These self-preserving incentives rest on two pertinent factors that make a rule effective: the probability of getting caught and the penalty of getting caught. For every time we’ve broken a rule, we’ve acted on the perceived probability of getting caught and the actual penalty of getting caught. You stole the meat from your mother’s pot because you either thought she wouldn’t know (low probability of getting caught) or because you felt she wouldn’t punish you even if she caught you (little to no penalty of getting caught).

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