Daniel Pink, whom I talked about in yesterday’s post, identifies what he calls the “Sawyer Effect,” named for Tom Sawyer’s famed manipulation of his boyhood friends into whitewashing a fence and paying for the privilege of doing it. Pink writes that “rewards can perform a weird sort of behavioral alchemy: They can transform an interesting task into a drudge. They can turn play into work.”
A passage from Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, quoted by Pink, illustrates the point nicely:
There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and then they would resign.
So what are the implications for IP policy? The Sawyer Effect would seem to suggest that copyright, for instance, by providing financial rewards for activities like creative writing, may actually work to extinguish the motivation to write.
This is particularly tickling, because Samuel Clemens (who, of course, wrote as Mark Twain) was a big booster of lengthened copyright terms. Clemens argued before British Parliament and the U.S. Congress in favor perpetual copyright.
I want [the authors' trade] to be represented and protected and encouraged. They are all worthy, all important, and if we can take them under our wing by copyright, I would like to see it done. I should like to have you encourage oyster culture and anything else.
So who should we believe? Twain or Clemens? If you look at the science, it supports the Twain view. Besides, Twain wrote with a novelist’s deep candor.
Clemens, as he admitted, had an “extraordinary interest” in the copyright-extension bill he testified in favor of.