on Fine

Post office is located at the end of the IIT Bombay campus. My inland letters were finished, I went there to buy them. To enter this PO, either you first get out of the IIT Y-point and then get into it or you can jump over a four feet wall. I took the easy step. I jumped in.

After I bought the letters and came out, three guys were waiting for me outside. They were of course harsh and the worst form of Marathi Manoos I’d ever came across. Much better than a normal Haryanvi Jat by the way. They took my id card and asked me to collect is from Dean, Student Affair. It happened two days before Dussera 2009.

After the Dussera holiday, I’d go to the Dean SA. I saw the name which sounded like a South Indian. I was relieved. I thought that now there are more chances that this guy will listen to me before making up his mind. But I was wrong about it. He was another Marathi Manoos. After giving me lecture in Marathi on how a person from UP should behave and Thakerey is out there to break my leg, he said the four letter f-word. Yes, you are right!  Fine. “What kind of fine?” I asked. “Monetary”. Rs 1000. I bit my nails and another four letter f-word appears in my mind. Fuck! But I did not argue with this pig-head, a quality which is admired in India, it was reduced to Rs 500.

Regionalism is seen in India in one form or other. What he said was not depressing or frustrating. You can see the success of Shiv Sena or MNS over there, it speaks a lot about this cosmopolitan city. I think politicians as the applied-social-scientist who tell people what they like to hear. This issue was not worth thinking about. What I catches my mind was the four letter f-word. Fine.

I have the habit of paying fine. Late submission of library books is the most prominent. I don’t feel bad about it, neither I’ve met one who feels bad about it. The library fine is quite low, Rs 0.50. The library cards also has an additional line mentioning that, “Someone else might be waiting for it.” Had there be no fine, would I submit my books on time (why? We’ll see) . I used to wonder. Then a study in Haifa, Israel came to approve my apprehensions.

 To quote this link

“The deterrence hypothesis predicts that the introduction of a penalty that leaves everything else unchanged will reduce the occurrence of the behavior subject to the fine. We present the result of a field study in a group of day-care centers that contradicts this prediction. Parents used to arrive late to collect their children, forcing a teacher to stay after closing time. We introduced a monetary fine for late-coming parents. As a result, the number of late-coming parents increased significantly. After the fine was removed no reduction occurred. We argue that penalties are usually introduced into an incomplete contract, social or private. They may change the information that agents have, and therefore the effect on behavior may be opposite of that expected. If this is true, the deterrence hypothesis loses its predictive strength, since the clause ‘‘everything else is left unchanged’’ might be hard to satisfy.” 

In this study, they put fine on the parents who came late to pick up their child from the day-care centre. The common wisdom might have predicted that this would improve the situation but in fact the numbers of the parents turning up late increased significantly. The fine was not small as in case of IITB library fine. But interestingly when the fine was removed, the situation did not improve. In other words, imposing fine has worsened the attitude of parents.
The study concludes that, 

Any model, or explanation, of these results has to provide two specific predictions: first, the fact that the rate of delay increases after the introduction of a fine; second, the fact that this rate remains stable after the fine is removed.

They further concluded that  a ‘‘large enough’’ fee would eventually reduce the behavior. For instance, many day-care centers in the United States clearly announce a fee for coming late at the start of the year, and this fee is large and proportional to the length of the delay.
Lets come to the point. First it was a social norm, coming late and making the manager waiting made them feel bad. It was an ethical situation. After the invention of fine. It became the market norm like you are buying their services. There is no more dilemma of ethics. Buy why the situation has not improved after removing the fine?
Perhaps when social-sense ( harm, fairness, community (or group loyalty), authority and purity is replaced by market-sense (supply-demand, game-theory, cost-benefit analysis); its hard to reverse the situation. So fine becomes a fees.

So if there was no fine in IIT Bombay library, I could have been more sensitive towards the idea that other are waiting for it. Had they removed the fine later, I don’t think I could have done the same. 
May be few things make sense only in one language (English) as Balram Halwai says in the opening gambit of the novel “The White Tiger” writing to Chinese premier. So you see young girls and guys taking pride in their “market oriented thinking”, in Hindi translation, it is just downright “bazaru”. A very derogatory remark for anyone, boy or girl. It oscillate between selling one’s soul to selling one’s body.
Replacing the sense of responsibility with idea of money needs careful studies. Taxpayers (I am also one of those) generally feel this way, “I have paid the taxes, its government job now to take social responsibility.” Once these ideas become a philosophy, you see the same kind of behaviour as this study has shown. In relationships also, these things are creeping in. Career and Family? Who’s job to take care of child? Relations or career? Sorry, this was just professional and many more. In all of these cases, the conflict is always between  social norm and market norm.
First impression, I dont like the way world is moving. Do you?

Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

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