Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
It’s been so long since I ordered this book, let alone started it, that I don’t remember how I heard about it. My best guess is an NPR interview but it doesn’t really matter except that it’s not something I would normally just grab off the shelf. The book is all about choices. How we are influenced in to them, and how to make better ones, specifically. There is a lot of focus on the role of being a Choice Architect and how good and poor planning by that individual can drastically skew results. The example they give in the beginning of the book is the individual who has the assignment of listing food options for school lunches. Putting healthy food first on the list, and the less-healthy or junkfood options last, substantially increases the amount of healthy food consumed. The person is not excluding the junkfood or forcing any option – but list-order becomes very important when nudging kids to eat better.
There are many examples in the book of how choice architecture and nudges can work. Everything from what songs are purchased on iTunes to what plans are chosen for retirement funds. They even have a chapter devoted to the idea of privatizing marriage. The authors show these examples, talk about why they work and don’t work, and then give their solutions to a lot of the problems, based on their Economist views.
Despite the time it took me to read this (almost 3 months – yikes! – although Christmas was a giant interference in available time) I found it all to be incredibly fascinating. It doesn’t exactly read like a novel, which was another reason it took me so long, but I enjoyed it and thought it was well written for those of us that are not economy experts. My only real complaint is that a lot of the problems with our economy that they point out, can not be fixed by individuals. It can be incredibly frustrating to see a solution for a problem and know that only the government can change it, and most likely will not. I did come away with a new understanding of influences though and that is certainly helpful on a personal level.
Next up: The Help, by Kathryn Stockett