How much should governments influence norms?

by on December 27, 2004 at 7:17 am in Current Affairs | Permalink

Colombian politicians have been consulting with Douglass North about how to improve citizen behavior:

Another innovative idea was to use mimes to improve both traffic and
citizens’ behavior. Initially 20 professional mimes shadowed
pedestrians who didn’t follow crossing rules: A pedestrian running
across the road would be tracked by a mime who mocked his every move.
Mimes also poked fun at reckless drivers. The program was so popular
that another 400 people were trained as mimes.

That is just the beginning:

[the driver behind these ideas and the now-former mayor of Bogota] taught vivid lessons with these tools. One time, he asked
citizens to put their power to use with 350,000 "thumbs-up" and
"thumbs-down" cards that his office distributed to the populace. The
cards were meant to approve or disapprove of other citizens’ behavior;
it was a device that many people actively – and peacefully – used in
the streets.

He also asked people to pay 10 percent extra in voluntary taxes. To the
surprise of many, 63,000 people voluntarily paid the extra taxes. A
dramatic indicator of the shift in the attitude of "Bogotanos" during
Mockus’ tenure is that, in 2002, the city collected more than three
times the revenues it had garnered in 1990.

Another Mockus inspiration was to ask people to call his office if
they found a kind and honest taxi driver; 150 people called and the
mayor organized a meeting with all those good taxi drivers, who advised
him about how to improve the behavior of mean taxi drivers. The good
taxi drivers were named "Knights of the Zebra," a club supported by the
mayor’s office.

And get this

To encourage Colombians skeptical of his ability to tackle the chaos and disorder of the city, he [Mockus] publicly donned a superman costume and renamed himself "Supercitizen".

Here is the full story, and thanks to Eric Crampton for the pointer.  If you read Spanish, here is an essay by Mockus on his philosophy.

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