Building products that nudge people toward more sustainable life styles has been something of a trend lately. To the extent that initiatives like these are successful, the bag of tricks they’re applying comes out of the toolbox of behavioural economics, the poster child of which is Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman.

But what would happen if instead of encouraging people to change using subtle queues, you’d brute-force the issue by simply incentivising them the good old proven way; by paying cash?

That’s exactly what’s being explored in a pan-European research project I recently heard about, and it’s what already being implemented at scale in the Netherlands, where people are paid 20 cents per kilometre for ditching their car in favour of their bike.

It’s an interesting idea not least because it shines a light on the assumption that the only means afforded to states that want to influence peoples’ behaviour, are once that are designed to disincentivise. Whether we like it or not, most of us have gotten used to the idea of exorbitant taxes on tobacco and alcohol, for example. But it’s hard to imagine getting paid to quit smoking or to stay sober. And yet using tax payers money this way would probably make perfect economic sense, given the collective costs incurred by nasty habits like smoking and excessive drinking.

So will we start seeing more examples of citizen getting paid for doing the right thing? The recent examples of incentivising people to get their covid shots could indeed indicate such a development. I find that pretty interesting.