For Better Citizenship, Scratch and Win
China, with its largely cash economy, has a huge problem with tax evasion. Not just grand tax evasion, but the everyday “no receipt, please” kind, even though there have been harsh penalties: Before 2011, some forms of tax evasion were even punishable by death.
The country needed a different approach. So what did it do to get people to pay sales tax?
A. Hired a force of inspectors to raid restaurants and stores to catch people skipping the receipt, accompanied by big fines and prison terms.
B. Started an “It’s a citizen’s duty to denounce” exhortation campaign.
C. Installed cameras to photograph every transaction.
D. Turned receipts into scratch-off lottery games.
One of these things is not like the other, and that’s the answer: D. Instead of punishing under-the-table transactions, China wisely decided to encourage legal transactions by starting a receipt lottery. Many places have done this — Brazil, Chile, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia and Taiwan, among others. In Taiwan, for example, every month the tax authorities post lottery numbers; match a few numbers for a small prize, or all of them to win more than $300,000.
China took it further. Customers need not store their receipts and wait until the end of the month to see if they’ve won money. Gratification is instant: Each receipt, known as a fapiao, is a scratch-off lottery ticket. People still game the system, but much less. The fapiao system has greatly raised collections of sales tax, business income tax and total tax. And it’s cheap to administer: one study found that new tax revenue totaled 30 times (PDF) the cost of the lottery prizes.
When a receipt is a lottery ticket, people ask for a receipt. They hope to get money, but just as important, they like to play games. Those axioms apply around the globe.
“We have groups that say: we can give out an incentive to our customers worth $15,” said Aron Ezra, chief executive of OfferCraft, an American company that designs games for businesses. “They could do that and have everyone get an incentive for $15. But they’d get better results for the same average price by having variability — some get $10, some get $100.” The lottery makes it exciting.
The huge popularity of lotteries shows this. Another example is the Save to Win program, which credit unions are using in seven states. Microscopic interest rates weren’t enough to get low-income customers to save. So instead, for every $25 they put into a savings account, depositors get one lottery entry. They can win a grand prize — in some states, $10,000 — or $100 prizes every month.
彩票的大受欢迎证明了这一点。另外一个例子是被七个州的信用社采用的存钱有奖(Save to Win)活动。低利率不足以让低收入消费者存钱。于是，储户每向一个储蓄账户中存入25美元，便可获得一次彩票抽奖的机会。他们每月可能会中一项大奖——在有些州是1万美元——或是100美元的小奖。
What else could lotteries do?
Los Angeles and Philadelphia have been the sites of experiments to increase dismal voter turnout in local elections by choosing a voter at random to win a large cash prize. In May 2015, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project in Los Angeles offered $25,000 to a random voter in one district during a school board election, in a project named Voteria.
洛杉矶和费城做过一些实验，内容是通过随机选出一名选民作为一大笔现金奖励的获奖人这种方式，来提高当地选举中令人沮丧的投票率。2015年5月，在一个名为Voteria的项目中，洛杉矶西南选民等级教育项目(Southwest Voter Registration Education Project)随机向某区的学校董事会选举中的一名选民发放了2.5万美元。
What effect did Voteria have? (More than one can apply)
A. The idea created a lot of outrage.
B. It increased turnout by 46 percent among residents who had heard of it.
C. It decreased turnout; offering money made people less willing to do their civic duty.
D. The idea was declared illegal by the courts.
The answers are A and B.
Many commenters hated Voteria. “This gimmick perverts the motivation to vote,” said The Los Angeles Times. But it had a large effect on turnout among residents who knew of it, according to a study led by Fernando Guerra of the Center for the Study Of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. Oh, and it made a very startled Ivan Rojas, a security guard, $25,000 richer.
很多评论人士厌恶Voteria。“这种把戏扭曲了投票的动机，”《洛杉矶时报》(Los Angeles Times)称。但是，据洛约拉马里蒙特大学(Loyola Marymount University)洛杉矶研究中心(Center for the Study Of Los Angeles)的费尔南多·格拉(Fernando Guerra)领导的一项研究称，它对知道它的居民的投票率产生了很大影响。哦，它还让保安伊万·罗哈斯(Ivan Rojas)非常吃惊地获得了2.5万美元。
Guerra told a local radio program that Voteria was unique among nonpartisan efforts to increase turnout. “We don’t have anything that’s been as successful as this, at least that political science literature has been able to capture,” he said.
After Los Angeles conducted Voteria, The Philadelphia Citizen, a newspaper that publishes a column titled “Ideas We Should Steal,” stole it. The paper got a $10,000 grant from the foundation of its chief investor to create a Philly Voteria for the mayor’s race. “Yes, we’re that desperate,” said The Citizen. Among people who were aware of the idea, turnout increased by 5 percent.
在洛杉矶实行Voteria后，《费城公民报》(The Philadelphia Citizen)——该报有个专栏叫《我们应该盗用的主意》(Ideas We Should Steal)——就“盗用”了它。该报从其主要投资者的基金会争取到1万美元奖金，为市长选举设立了Philly Voteria。“是的，我们就是这么迫切，”《费城公民报》称。在知道这个项目的人中，投票率增加了5%。
Voteria raised a lot of issues. In Los Angeles it was selectively applied in a largely Latino district. It is a gimmick — it draws attention to voter alienation, but offers no real solution. And were the lottery-motivated voters informed voters, or did they pull a random lever?
A counterargument is that millions of dollars are spent in elections — including public money in many places — in ways that alienate and misinform voters. Why is a lottery worse?
Sweden’s Speed Camera Lottery, instead of just ticketing speeders, also rewarded drivers going at or below the speed limit. They could enter a lottery with a grand prize of $3,000 — prize money culled from the proceeds of speeding tickets.
瑞典的测速摄像抽奖(Speed Camera Lottery)不仅向超速者罚款，而且奖励那些在限速范围内行驶的司机。他们可以参加最高奖金为3000美元的抽奖——奖金来自超速罚款。
What were the results?
A. The accident rate went up, as drivers slowed down too suddenly.
B. Average speed in a 30 k.p.h. (18.6 m.p.h.) zone dropped from 32 k.p.h. (20 m.p.h.) to 25 k.p.h. (15.5 m.p.h.).
C. It had no effect.
D. The average speed dropped and stayed down, even after the lottery ended.
The idea came from Kevin Richardson, an American entertainment industry executive and game producer. The concept itself was the result of a game: Richardson had won a contest, sponsored by Volkswagen, to devise enjoyable methods to help people change their behavior.
But even though the average speed dropped while the camera was up, the effect quickly vanished when the experiment ended. Sweden tried the camera in five other places. On average, speed was reduced by 8 percent, which would cut fatal accidents by 32 percent. Swedish traffic officials concluded that while the lottery was effective, it would have to be in use continuously.
But Sweden didn’t expand or continue the speed lottery, and no one else has used it. Richardson has a theory about why: “Sweden was very open to it because their goal is to achieve zero traffic deaths,” he said. “While in the U.S.A. and other countries, giving tickets is a revenue-generating thing and the idea of getting rid of it would be abhorrent to somebody.”
Like any scheme to pay people to do things they should be doing anyway, lotteries have their critics.
One fear is that enforcing norms with money could make things worse: if people are rewarded for good behavior, they tend to think of it as an economic choice and not a moral one. That can weaken the social norms that are often a more powerful enforcer of rules.
On the other hand, people are fined for bad behavior all the time. Rewarding them for good behavior is essentially the same action, in reverse. Insurance companies have good driver discounts, for example. That’s just a more pleasant way to say that they charge bad drivers more.
One big market for lotteries is in promoting health. Such lotteries have been used to get people to:
A. Be screened for tuberculosis.
B. Have safer sex.
C. Keep their medical appointments.
D. All of the above.
It’s D, of course.
Health-related lotteries aren’t new. In 1957, Glasgow held a mass X-ray campaign to diagnose tuberculosis. Health officials aimed to X-ray 250,000 people and in the end got three times that many. One reason for the enthusiasm: a weekly prize draw. A lovely vintage newsreel reported on the campaign.
More than 50 years later, researchers set up a lottery among young adults in Lesotho, designed to promote safe sex practices. Every four months the subjects were tested for two sexually transmitted diseases, syphilis and trichonomiasis. A negative test got them entered into a lottery to win either $50 (equivalent to a week’s average salary) or $100. The idea was to see if incentives to reduce the spread of syphilis would also protect against HIV.
The results were significant — a 21.4 percent reduction in the rate of new H.I.V. infections, and a 3.4 percent lower prevalence rate of HIV in the treatment group after two years. And the effect was lasting — the gains persisted a year after the experiment ended. The lottery worked in large part because it was most attractive to those most at risk: many people who take sexual risks also enjoy taking monetary risks, and might be eager to play a lottery.
The authors wrote in a blog post: “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first H.I.V. prevention intervention focusing on sexual behavior changes (as opposed to medical interventions) to have been demonstrated to lead to a significant reduction in H.I.V. incidence, the ultimate objective of any H.I.V. prevention intervention.”
Back in America, almost every medical clinic has a big no-show problem. All patients suffer, because to compensate for no-shows, clinics book multiple patients for the same slot — hence the 12-minute doctor’s appointment.
OfferCraft worked with one clinic where the no-show rate was 50 percent, said Ezra. The clinic had tried fining people when they didn’t come to their appointments. This increased attendance slightly, but patients hated it, and it was very difficult to collect the fines.
So the clinic set up a lottery. When patients checked out and made their follow-up appointment, they were invited to play a Spinning Wheel game. A prize was certain, but they didn’t know if they’d won a $10, $50 or $150 gift card. To find out and receive their prize, they had to keep their appointment.
The no-show rate dropped to below 30 percent.
Why not just hold a lottery for $150? “In a traditional lottery system lots of people assume, well, I’m not going to win,” said Ezra. “The results are stronger when you know you’ve won something.”
Games can provide powerful incentives for just about any behavior. (And perhaps the quizzes in this column kept you reading to the end.) So let’s play one more game: Tweet your best ideas for using a lottery, using #GameMyFix.
Could a lottery for graduates reduce school dropout? Would a chance at a big prize get people into the gym? Could it keep ex-offenders from falling back into crime? How about a lottery for carpoolers? People who reduce their home water consumption by 15 percent?
We’d love to be able to enter those tweets in a prize lottery, but that’s against Times rules. So we’ll choose the best ideas, publish them, and put them in front of people who might use them. Maybe, as with the speed camera, someone will take your idea out for a low-speed spin.