I second-guessed my purchase of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, almost the minute I...moreI second-guessed my purchase of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, almost the minute I received my Amazon e-mail receipt -- I had already read Malcom Gladwell's Blink, and heard about the literary disaster that is Sway, and yet there I was, reading Nudge's introduction about the arrangement of cafeteria food.
I'm glad I did. While Thaler and Sunstein are happy to revel in the small ways that their insights into "choice architecture" can lead to better or worse choices, they also lay out their political principles and detail their impact on current policy debates (e.g., Social Security, Medicare Part D, Education.) To top it all off, they begin the book with a treatment of our cognitive failings, distinguishing between our automatic and reflective processing systems (what's not to love!), leading right into their arguments for how to help the automatic majority overcome their cognitive frailty without infringing the reflective minority's ability to choose.
So what is choice architecture? Well, are you choosing out of ten choices, or 100? Are you automatically enrolled in one choice or another if you don't make an active decision? How is that default set? How is information presented to you to about the available choices? All of these questions speak to choice architecture -- in other words, the arrangement and organization of choices -- which has a nasty habit of leading individuals to choices that they themselves would not find optimal (see don't be bob bias, the mind and morality).
Furthermore, "choice architecture, both good and bad, is pervasive and unavoidable." This point is essential to Thaler and Sunstein's argument if you are a libertarian. Ignoring choice architecture won't make it go away, it will only make it more likely that the choices favored by choice architecture are more likely to be poor. For instance, you can make the default option for new employees enrolled at 5% in a 401(k) with an option to opt-out, or you can make the default option to not be enrolled (as is often the case). If you stick with the current default, many who would otherwise enjoy being enrolled will not do so because of the choice architecture. Thaler and Sunstein recommend acknowledging the importance of choice architecture and deliberately deciding on its design.
Thaler and Sunstein aren't interested in helping individuals pick out their dry cleaners; as the authors note, if a dry cleaner performs poorly, it is fairly easy for individuals to make a better decision the next team.
Rather, "people are most likely to need nudges for decision that are difficult, complex, and infrequent, and when they have poor feedback and few opportunities for learning."
Individuals are primed to make poor choices for Medicare Part D, Mortgages, and retirement investments. Thaler and Sunstein don't advocate for eliminating choices because of these problems. On the contrary, their final chapter points to the infamous "third way" -- separate from both the command-and-control left and the single-minded 'choice' monkeys of the libertarian right.
There needn't be a war between 'no choice' and 'unlimited choice.' Thaler and Sunstein spend around 250 pages explaining that this is indeed a false choice. Like myself, they side with the libertarians when it comes to the importance of choice, and side with the left when it comes to the failure of 'choice' to solve all problems. Choice is important. Coercion isn't necessary. Focus on the choice architecture.
Oh, and I have to add. As someone who has long supported responding to the gay marriage debate by taking government out of the marriage business (perhaps keeping a civil union or partnership business) and leaving it to independent churches, I was very happy to see Thaler and Sunstein put forth such an argument in Nudge.
Whether you are on the left or right, worth a read! (Taken from my post)(less)
Game theoretic exploration of the sub title: "Rather than probing the motives of rebels or the nature of their organizations, I instead ask: Why would...moreGame theoretic exploration of the sub title: "Rather than probing the motives of rebels or the nature of their organizations, I instead ask: Why would governments adopt policies that impoverish their citizens? Why would they “overextract” wealth from their domains? Why would they alter the distribution of income so grossly that it would become politically unsustainable? By addressing such questions, I explored the ways in which incumbent regimes prepared the field for the forces of political disorder."
Explains political order and disorder in the context of the roving/stationary bandit problem (greater political risk (e.g., elections) negatively affects the regime's behavior), and the relative rewards of predation versus legitimate tax revenue.
Disagrees with conventional wisdom in that he dismisses the importance of private income (but not public revenues) on political order (as the decreased cost of rebellion is canceled out by the decreased value of predation), and adeptly notes that importance of ethnic diversity is contingent on the variables mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Bates' book marginally added to my knowledge of political order, but presents a quick (216 page) game-theoretic explain of state failure: "In light of the evidence Africa offers, political order cannot be treated as a given. Rather, I argue, it results when rulers – whom I characterize as “specialists in violence” – choose to employ the means of coercion to protect the creation of wealth rather than to prey upon it and when private citizens choose to set weapons aside and to devote their time instead to the production of wealth and to the enjoyment of leisure. When these choices constitute an equilibrium, then, I say, political order forms a state."(less)
If you think you might enjoy this book, you will. Johnson does a good explaining his theory of innovation (disclaimer: with which I agree), provides a...moreIf you think you might enjoy this book, you will. Johnson does a good explaining his theory of innovation (disclaimer: with which I agree), provides a series of illustrative case studies from the worlds of natural man-made invention, and demonstrates a great deal of self-awareness in the concluding chapter, where he notes that case studies in themselves demonstrate nothing, and proceeds to a more comprehensive treatment of innovation in the past 400 years or so. In addition, Johnson clearly wrote the book so that the reader could not only see how society can best foster innovation, but the individual as well. While in no way a self-help book, many will benefit from his treatment of the "commonplace book" and how some of the world's greatest thinkers increased the odds of successful innovations by developing a few replicable practices (e.g., writing everything down, maintaining multiple strong interests). Finally, the book is peppered with compelling anecdotes and details that make the chapters a joy, even if you are already familiar with the chapter's particular theme.
It's worth noting that he states that his conclusions do not imply that a dramatic overhaul of intellectual property law would be beneficial. What's more, he equates IP with capitalism, and "non-market" (e.g., academic research group that rely on citations/tenure rather than patents) with socialism. I found this discussion a bit sloppy, and I was disappointed by the unfortunate misclassification in the sentence above, and the failure to offer a convincing argument why his conclusions did not imply that a reduction in IP would benefit innovation and society at large. I think Johnson simply did not want to open that can of worms, but disappointing nonetheless. (disclaimer once more: I support the dramatic reduction of IP law.)
Overall, an excellent history of innovation, and the individual practices and environments that best foster it. To continue down this rabbit hole, I'd recommend "Against Intellectual Monopoly", which provides a more rigorous assessment of how and when invention arose in systems with and without intellectual property protection in the past few hundred years, and how IP law arose.(less)
If I could give the book 3.5 stars I would. If you've read "Bottom Billion" (highly recommended), then I don't think you'll necessarily get much out o...moreIf I could give the book 3.5 stars I would. If you've read "Bottom Billion" (highly recommended), then I don't think you'll necessarily get much out of War, Guns, Votes. This time around Collier is more focused on the political economy of the bottom billion, but his analysis and recommendations echo Bottom Billion to a large degree.
The book has been successful in stirring up interesting blog post reviews, which I think do a good job explaining the good and the bad about the book:
1) Bill Easterly is right on point in questioning whether it's safe to draw any real conclusions from Collier's statistical work, which often looks like data mining: http://blogs.nyu.edu/fas/dri/aidwatch...
2) Chris Blattman responds to Easterly, citing Popper (very nice), while explaining the difficulty of cross-country analysis. He quite appropriately concludes: "This is where most of the literature fails: overconfidence in weak tests on poor data. I actually buy most of Collier's conclusions, and share his intuition. But this is theory-building, not theory-proving, and the answer remains to be found." http://chrisblattman.blogspot.com/200...
3) Bryan Caplan praises an excerpt of Collier's book: "This is political economy the way it should be done: Realistic analysis of politicians' actual situation, not deductions from irrelevant rational voter models." http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2...
Conclusion: Read Bottom Billion first. Read Easterly second. If you still have some time, pick up War, Guns, Votes.(less)
The second best book on understanding history as more than discrete, poorly defined "periods."
Toynbee's criticism of historical analysis is spot on, t...moreThe second best book on understanding history as more than discrete, poorly defined "periods."
Toynbee's criticism of historical analysis is spot on, though the model he offers in its place falls short. Carroll Quigley does a better job at delivering on both counts. Still, this is a VERY important work jampacked with compelling information and analysis.
Quigley, Toynbee, and Durant are the best I've found in this field.(less)
Best work of its kind. THE book to read on historical analysis. Better than Toynbee, better than Durant. Changes the way you read and think about not...moreBest work of its kind. THE book to read on historical analysis. Better than Toynbee, better than Durant. Changes the way you read and think about not only history, but the present as well. Read Quigley. Also read Mancur Olson, only then then read EVERYONE ELSE.(less)
Olson's explanation of the rise and decline of nations is spot on. Furthermore, it applies to all groups, from the smallest social group to the larges...moreOlson's explanation of the rise and decline of nations is spot on. Furthermore, it applies to all groups, from the smallest social group to the largest corporation.(less)