Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Incentives & Abortion Protests

An interesting new strategy is being employed by a Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia to discourage pro-life protests in front of their health center. It is called "Pledge-a-Picket":

Here's how it works: You decide on the amount you would like to pledge for each protester (minimum 10 cents). When protesters show up on our sidewalks, Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania will count and record their number each day from October 1 through November 30, 2005. We will place a sign outside the health center that tracks pledges and makes protesters fully aware that their actions are benefiting PPSP. At the end of the two-month campaign, we will send you an update on protest activities and a pledge reminder.

This type of strategy is a prime example of the use of incentives to change the cost-benefit decision for the protesters. My question is: Do you think this strategy will work? What is your prediction for the result of this strategy? It would be useful to talk about the decision to protest in terms of costs & benefits (monetary or non-monetary).

(Note: this will not be a forum to express opinions about being pro-life or pro-choice or moral judgements, it is only a forum to discuss the incentives and economics of the situation)

Source: Freakonomics blog


Gregory Bylos said...

I think that in theory this is a great idea for not only getting rid of protesters and at the same time raising money for the center. However, I can't help wondering whether enough people will pledge money that it will make an obvious difference in the number of protesters. Yes, people who are pro-choice will go to these centers and pay for their services, but will they give money to help the cause? They have, technically, achieved their goal, which is having abortion be legal. I would think pro-lifers would be more likely to give money as their goal has not yet been achieved. I just don't think too many people will donate to have less protesters outside the center. In theory though, if a lot of pro-choicers do give money, this would be an excellent way to get rid of protesters, as the protesters would be able to see that they are hurting more than helping their cause by protesting as they are basically just giving money to the center. The cost of being there is money to help the center, and the benifit is the small chance that that day they will be able to change someone's mind about abortion, and chances are that if a person is already at the clinic, they have made up their mind on the issue.

Anonymous said...

I do not think this idea will work. I agree with Gregory in that many of the pro-choice believers will not have the incentive to pledge because they already have their goal: abortion being illegal. Therefore, it is not in their rational self-interest to pledge. So, while a few may pledge, there will not be a great amount. The protesters will then see the lack of pledges because of the sign, and so the benefit of protesting will outweigh the cost (the money donated to the center). Therefore, the protesters will continue to protest.
-Emily Freebairn

Anonymous said...

Two assumptions are being made.

The first is that pledges will be collected in the first place. Unless, of course, the contention is that the mere presence of a sign indicating the pledge-a-picket progress will be enough to sway the protesters. Indeed, the protesters may not have any idea if the money is actually being collected. The idea here is that the mere thought of their actions in some way benefiting the clinic will dissuade the protesters.
This brings up the interesting possibilty of a "dummy" pledge sign. I don't think the benefit for the clinic would be that much different unless they were in dire financial straits or could manage to get some huge pledges.

The second assumption is that monetary benefit for the clinic would necessarily translate as detrimental to the protesters. What is the purpose of the protester? Is it to see the ruin of the clinic, or to hopefully change the minds of the potential clients at the clinic? Certainly this is a debatable issue... some probably want the clinic somehow destroyed, but then anyone that really wanted an abortion could just find a different place to go. So, what would the best result be for the protesters? The end of abortion.

Will this goal be farther out of reach if this particular clinic has more money at its disposal? This is, I think, the heart of the question. I personally have never seen an advertisement for an abortion clinic. I suppose there may be a listing in the yellow pages, but I can't say for sure. I think that it's reasonable to assume that having more money at its disposal will not significantly increase the clinic's client list. So, the protesters need to keep at it; the effect of the protest will most likely outweigh the effect of the extra income that may be generated by the pledge drive.


Anonymous said...

I agree that the benefit of protesting outweighs the benefit of the money they are causing the clinic to gain, but I really don't think that's the point of Pledge-a-Picket. I think that we would have to know how much money their protesting is raising for the clinics to be able to tell if it will work. It's a pretty good idea, because psychologically the protesters mighthate the idea that they are benefitting the clinics in any way, no matter how small. As far as my prediction as to the success of this plan, I think it will deter a few of the less passionate protesters, but the hardcore ones would probably still do it if you stood out there and handed $100 bills in the door as each protester arrived. Some of them probably can't stand the idea of benefitting the clinic in any way, so the benefit to them of protesting is outweighed by the percieved benefit the clinic would receive from the money. Personally, I don't think that protesters make much of a difference in the decision of the people who go to these clinic, so the protesters are gaining little except the satisfaction that comes with the feeling of doing what they believe is right.

Anonymous said...

I think that this might lessen the number of protesters but that hey would find other ways to voice their opinion. I think that at first protesters would continue but after they sasw how much they were contributiing to PP in money and how much of thir own time they were using numbers would go down. Now not only is their time a cost but they are actually putting money in the hands of the people they are protesting against. I dont think this would get rid of the people against PP though. They would merely find another way to express their opinion. Either protesting in a different loction or sending letters or doing ads of some sort. If people are serious enough to go out and protest they arent going to just stop they are going to find another way. I dont think there is any good way that they could completely gt rid of protesters beccause they strongly believe in what they are doing.
Erin clay