Daily #207. Effort is not something that can be measured by outcome, but only by your own heart. That, at least, is what I believe.
This was actually the beginning and end to a longer piece I had written, but I cut out the entire middle - which was my personal experiences with school and competitions - because it was too difficult to draw, and also too long.
yep, pretty much.
This is a classic problem in microeconomics known as “Moral Hazard.”
The two options in the comic are that effort perfectly determines outcomes (‘the karmic system exists’) or is completely unrelated to it.
Of course, if effort is *completely* uncorrelated with outcomes, there would be no point in ever giving any effort at all, because more effort is costly and time-consuming, and this would be for no gain.
The reality, of course, isn’t that the system “sometimes” works, or only for “some people.” Effort and outcomes are *imperfectly* correlated: for all people, all the time, there is a high probability that high effort will result in good outcomes, but it’s by no means guaranteed: there are plenty of things which affect whether you succeed or not – the actions of others, whether you fall ill at the time, and a million other things out of your control. So, sometimes high effort still ends in bad outcomes, which is disheartening.
We can take the basic economic model and put it in terms of, say, a teacher and a student. Suppose (and this example generalizes to a continuum of effort and outcome possibilities) that you have two possible effort levels, high and low, and you have two possible outcomes in a maths test: you might get a high mark, or a low mark. Your teacher knows that the class is made up of people with lots of different levels of ability. And, being fair, she wants to reward *effort*, not (just) attainment; the purpose of school is, at least to her, to do your best and hopefully *improve*, not just do well.
She therefore wants her students to put in high effort. The trouble is, she can’t tell when this is the case – effort is unobservable. She knows that her students value her praise – to the point that, for at least some students, whether they put in high or low effort depends on how much praise they expect if they get a good or bad mark.
The question is, then, how much praise do you give to your students who get high and low marks, given that this is your only – imperfect – guide to effort, which is what you really want to reward?
The answer is that she awards more praise to those who get good marks to incentivize the extra effort – which depends on how closely correlated effort and attainment are (for example, low effort could give you a 50/50 chance of high or low marks – say it all depends on what questions come up; high effort raises these odds to 80/20). Whether they get high marks and high praise or not, students put in their costly effort in both “states” of the world. So, their “expected utility” is a probability-weighted sum across these two possible outcomes. (I’m sorry, I have to use real economics jargon now).
Students will thus put in high effort when the expected value of praise (which they like) exceeds the cost of putting in high effort (and this expected utility is greater than that from putting in the less costly low effort on the off-chance of getting high marks anyway).
What does all this have to do with a comic about trying hard? Well, you’re the best judge of how much effort you put in – you should judge yourself on your own terms, not by the imperfect measure of outcomes. If you know you did your best, then if you succeed it is *your* success, because your efforts positively affected the outcomes, by making good outcomes more likely, if not assured. If you fail, this isn’t because you didn’t “try hard enough” – by definition, you’ve done your best; you could do no better. It would be a very strange world indeed if everyone were in perfect control of their own destinies. And if people are judging you for your actions, then if they’re fair and rational, they should see this too.
This line of reasoning has a clear parallel in the field of ethics. Here, the issue is known as “Moral Luck”. The argument is that we should judge people by the moral rules they act upon (Kantianism) or by the positive character traits they exhibit (Virtue Ethics), whether or not these good intentions or good natures actually result in good outcomes, as to a large extent, outcomes remain partially determined by non-moral features of the world, for which the agent should not be blamed or judged.
Reblogging for the teacher/student example.