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Artwork: AKG '25
51

Incentives

Author: MRB '25
As seen in: Suburbia #

Ever since I earned my online economics nanodegree, I’ve been controlling my fourth-grade class using precise marginal incentive structures. It’s working a little too well. They just earned their sixth pizza party of the month, so it’s our fifth time watching Happy Feet 2 because it’s the only disc I have other than Happy Feet 1 and we watched that on the first pizza party.  

It started simply enough. Kids do their homework, I start grading it during lunch, I realize they’ve earned another pizza party, I realize pizza party points are inflationary and we are rapidly approaching a pizza party economic crisis, I don’t have time to think about this, I don’t even have a pizza for today’s pizza party, I steal the lunch pizza out of the cafeteria warmer and bring it into the classroom before the bell rings, Mrs. Thatcher’s kids are hungry but my kids are only temporarily hungry, we have a pizza party at the start of class, and everyone is happy except for Gluten Free Josh who is never happy. 

Things turned sour when the kids started collective bargaining after I raised the price of a pizza party. You know that thought experiment where you consider how many fourth graders you could take in a fight, and you realize it’s more than 1 but less than 20, but actually any fight with a fourth-grader is a Class A offense on your already shaky record? I began to beg. “A small amount of inflation is actually good for an economy,” I pleaded to unsympathetic ears. “A small amount of pizza party is good for tomorrow,” they said ominously, before all skipping out of the classroom in unison. “Deal,” I said to an empty room because it made me feel strong. 

On our final pizza party of the year, negotiations between me and the students finally cooled down. Now that pizza is a symbol of the working class, the cool kids don’t like it any more. They’ll only eat Gluten Free Josh’s special tofu with spicy dip because its low supply indicates higher value. The principal came by to congratulate the class on getting perfect scores on the state’s standardized test. Little does he know my kids’ biggest secret — they only work hard because doing so benefits their long-term expected earning potential.