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 "open." 

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 type. 

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 marketing. 

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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