The other day we had this interesting discussion in class on ‘Are incentives Bribes or vice versa?’ It was interesting to know that both words-incentive and bribe, meant almost the same. As per the oxford dictionary an incentive is a thing that encourages someone to do something, it is something that incites whereas a bribe means to dishonestly persuade someone to help you, especially by paying them; something offered in an attempt to bribe someone.
So you see the dictionary meanings for both are the same but still the context in which each of these words are used is different. As they say everything is a matter of perception which defines reality.
Bribe is mostly used as a negative word, something that is evil, and something that makes life easy and is used as a matter of convenience. Paying the traffic police on being caught after breaking a signal only to save our self the trouble of doing the rounds of a government office is an easy way out, isn’t it? So let’s look at this situation, here is the cause is breaking the law and the outcome is going scot-free. So isn’t unlawful behavior being reinforced over here, “If one law can be broken, who cares even the others can be”. Both bribe and incentive are very result oriented.
On the other hand an incentive is considered to be a boost which results in outcomes. Incentives form a major part of various internal PR plans. An employee working for a multinational company anyways gets his/her salary and phone bills paid is given a free executive weekend trip every three months. The motive behind this is to de-stress the employee who probably works five days a week, 15 hours each day. Here the management not only shows that they care for their employees but also increases their productivity. Now this is an example for an incentive designed for a positive outcome.
Having looked at concrete examples for both let’s try to confuse the two by taking a few more examples. Are incentives always designed for positive outcomes? If TATA Photon plus comes with a new plan where in if we take a Tata phone connection then you get a photon plus internet connection free with no monthly rentals for the first five months. Now will this be a bribe or an incentive? As mentioned earlier an incentive when properly designed for a positive outcome is not a bribe. Through this scheme Tata manages to promote its brand in a market which is filled with n number of brands offering broadband connections. Now if we look at the flip side of the same example we get to learn a different aspect. Out of ten clients being offered the scheme, all ten of them might not require the free connection for various reasons. There are possibilities that someone is not a netizen and does not require the connection or someone already has a better plan in hand. Thus different people respond differently to the same incentive that is offered to them.
Everything said and done are incentives bribes or are bribes incentives? I guess I would continue pondering over that till I come to a resolution.