Tax (instead of punishment) and the pledge sequence

I recently enjoyed reading “Beeminder As Your Personal Pigouvian Tax” on the Beeminder blog. This mindset is much more fruitful for my use of Beeminder! And as I’ve been chewing on the post, I’ve been realizing that my maximum pledge levels have been much too high for most of my goals, and that if I’m going to treat payment as a tax, the pledge does not have to be very high at all to mostly keep me on the path.

This also led me to think, does Beeminder’s current pledge sequence make sense in a “tax not punishment” world? The tax that I’d be willing to pay to derail on a goal feels highly variable, and often between pledge tiers. Maybe for one goal it’s $5, but maybe for another it’s $15, or $25, or $40, or $7. I feel like I should be permitted to set an arbitrary taxation amount for each goal (while still obeying the akrasia limit for decreasing it, obviously). I think this would considerably optimize each goal’s ability to keep me on track without the temptations to shenanigans for getting around paying. In other words, why am I only allowed to dial in my line, and not my tax? From the blog post (emphasis mine):

To review, a punishment framing can encourage an excuse-making mindset over a results-oriented mindset. It can also encourage you to make your goals less ambitious. Instead, try treating Beeminder’s stings as an elegant behavior-shaping tax and accept that some derailments are inevitable. You can view that tax as the cost of the service Beeminder provides: nudges or rumble strips keeping you on track. Finally, you can dial in a sweet spot in terms of both the steepness of the bright red line and the amount of money at risk. The (meta) goal is to be pushed to do as much as possible — or whatever maximizes the motivational value you get from Beeminder — at minimal cost.


Highly astute question and I think it may not! (Thanks also to Julia Specht ( for pointing this out in a beemail reply as well.)

This shift in mindset from punishment to taxation has happened gradually and I think it’s time to rethink the messaging here. A lot of the webcopy encourages riding the exponential pledge schedule to levels that are blatantly beyond taxing!

So I’m thinking the UI should guide users on this better, maybe by explicitly asking for your thresholds on what’s a tax you can stomach vs your Motivation Point vs something so scary you’d rather flatten the bright red line, or, G-d forbid, cheat.

Your idea of just making the pledge a free-form amount is not crazy either.

And today @clivemeister has another nice angle on this question: