Anya's Reviews > Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

Nudge by Richard H. Thaler
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Oct 18, 09

Read in October, 2009

I don't understand why this is a runaway bestseller--it's just not that enthralling. I've been reading lots of books lately about behavioral psychology and economics: why people make the decisions we do, economically and in other life areas. But Predictably Irrational and Made to Stick both explore these questions in a much more engaging way.

"Nudge" is mostly concerned with how companies and governments can practice what the authors term "libertarian paternalism"--gently, noncoercively pushing people toward doing something that they really want to do. For example, a company might, by default, enroll new employees in a 401K plan and put a certain salary percentage into that plan. The employees can opt out or change their contribution amount at any time, but by enrolling everyone by default, the company does an end run around its workers' natural procrastination tendencies, without forcing them into anything.

Another use of "nudging," this one on the state level, might be to require that everyone signing up for a driver's license check a box saying either "Yes, I want to be an organ donor" or "No, I don't wish to be an organ donor." Or, a state could change its laws so that people are, by default, assumed to be willing donors unless they say they don't want to. This would greatly increase the number of organs available for emergency transplants.

So, interesting stuff--but not enough to fuel an entire book. I wound up skimming quite a bit, and while some of the anecdotes are funny and interesting, many of the writers' proposals are dry unless you happen to be fascinated by the particular social or economic issue they're addressing. It's worth picking "Nudge" up to see if it grabs you; just don't be surprised if it lets go about 100 pages in.
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