Dear AIB community:

I have just returned from a trip to Koh Chang (or "Island of Elephant") in
Thailand and can't help but share a personal story with you all.

On the way to the island we saw a desk of a travel agency called Malibu
Travel by the pier, and the lady behind the desk was very friendly and
invited us to book a returning mini-bus ticket to Bangkok. Without thinking
much, we gave her 1,900Baht (about $600) and she gave us a hand-written
receipt that says the returning date and time were "open," we just have to
call her one day before to book the bus. When we returned two days later,
she turned into someone completely different, telling us that since we were
late for the booked bus, we had to find our own way home. When we told her
that the shuttle bus was broken on the island, which was why we were late
to the ferry to leave the island. She insisted that as the ticket was not
refundable, she was off the hook. The worst part was that she started to
call us crazy or nuts when we pointed out that the date and time was

What are we to get out of this not so nice story? As a customer I was
frustrated because we ended up losing the money and had to rent a cab home;
as a scholar however I see an important topic for research: what motivate
people in different countries. As my personal story shows, motivation makes
all the difference in national developments. I have a model that defines
two big types of motivations: "instinct" versus "cause related." The former
has an short term expected personal gains bigger than that of long term
social gains, with the material/tangible payoffs bigger than
internal/intangible payoff. In other words, instinct motivations are "for
me, for now and for the eyes" because people with strong instinct
motivations are self oriented, prefer instant gratifications that are easy
to see for themselves and for others. The travel agent I met is of this

Cause related motivation cares about internal and intangible rewards of
long term payoffs. The exact "causes" differ across people and countries
but they tend to be "higher" than instinct ones, such as charity, justice
and environment protection. Marketers have long leveraged on cause related

There are three issues. The first is motivations have received limited
attention because economists assume all agents are equally motivated by the
same incentive across countries and times, while culturists are busy with
other values. We have evidences to show that motivations cannot be taken
for granted. Instead, base level of motivation is part of national ethos
and is a scarce resource just like physical and human capitals are.

Secondly, while it is easy to assume that instinct motives are bad and
cause motives good, we need balanced motives of both types. Human history
before industrial revolution focused on religious causes of better "next
life" until we switched to instinct motives of this worldliness. Some
developing countries in Africa are yet overcoming the barrier of low
instinct motives. The travel agent I met helps has shown a high instinct
motive and in so doing, help income grow because unlike other Thais, she is
actively pursuing her personal gain. China's rise essentially has been a
story of an exceptionally strong instinct to grow family fortune, which
explains why 120 million farmers left hometowns to work in the physically
challenging jobs in far away cities. Zooming out to see the big pictures,
strong instinct motives help nations leap out of poverty, but to reach and
to stay in the high income club (instead of being trapped by middle
income), nations need citizens possessing higher causes beyond money,
otherwise there will be a gap left unfulfilled by releasing the surviving
pressures. In some rich EU countries some people may become too comfortable
to work hard.

Finally, motivations are hard to measure and to model, but since it is
largely ignored, I am looking for research partners with shared interest. I
care very little of your background, title, age, ethnicity or country of
origin, but a lot on your passion and motivation on the topic. Please feel
free to contact me through [log in to unmask] if you are interested!

Thanks for listening!
Jay Wu

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