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

Nudge by Richard H. Thaler
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Feb 14, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: economics, design, non-fiction, social-science

Nudge was not what I expected. I was looking for something about marketing, personal impulse, and more on how the brain can fool you. However I got something much more compelling: Nudge.

Here our two authors take a general theory; choice architecture, and present it in a very simple, easy to understand package. At times the writing is humorous (other times their jokes fall pretty flat) but the meanings were never lost. Quite simply, with a little bit of retooling, we could have a potentially huge impact on how our society works (within certain realms). This is powerful and heady stuff indeed. And not being a fan of the Chicago School of Economics, I personally was blown away by the simple fact that I agreed with these two professors so very much.

At the 50,000 foot view, a nudge is a simple change that gently pushes the odds of someone doing, or not doing something, in the direction that the choice architect wants. A great example, not from this book, is placing items a store wants to move on the isle end caps. A better example, from this book, is having an opt-in organ donor policy in order to get more people to become donors and thus save more lives.

Sometimes the authors really hit home run after home run for example when they talk about the benefits of cap and trade and on increasing taxes on polluters. Bonus, they are all for complete transparency (yay!). Even better, they give examples of how complete transparency has helped in the past! This all pushes the reader toward seeing their point of view on the subject.

However other parts lost a little of the choice architecture luster. One chapter that I believe is brilliant was a stretch for choice architecture - and that was the chapter on same sex marriage. They argue that the states should get rid of marriage, create simpler, civil unions for all and let religious groups (or scuba groups) marry whomever they want. Now I'm all for this - government should not be in the business of marriage and everyone, gay, straight, etc should be able to have a civil union - a legally binding contract together, if they so chose. With all that goes with it (taxes, the right to visit each other in the hospital, etc). however this was a stretch for the main topics of the book. Still it was great to see a rational argument for giving everyone the same rights. As someone wise once said, everyone should have the right to marry the person they want to annoy (in a loving way) for the rest of their life!

Past that, the book also gave me some food for thought on school programs (so called vouchers) and the medicare drug option program (and how we could make it better). The latter is actually something that I'm starting to look at as my mom is trying to figure out what to do. She's a former pharmacist so if she's having trouble, you know the design is pretty bad! The simple proposals in Nudge would make life a ton easier. Simply import your current drug regime and get a breakdown on which plan best fits your needs. How much easier could you ask for? Total transparency with an easy mechanism to make things work.

Overall this was a great, quick read that left me wanting to read a little more deeply on this topic. This book, by design, only skims the surface. That's both its blessing and its failure. There were too many topics covered, briefly, and not enough meat at times. This left a few of the ideas feeling half formed; which I think is a disservice to the authors. I don't agree with all their ideas but their presentation was fair, well thought out and articulated from the position of wanting to help everyone - especially those who don't know what their best interests are (and we all fit into that category sometimes). An excellent read.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by David (new) - added it

David You do a great job at distillation!

Allisonperkel David wrote: "You do a great job at distillation!"

thanks! I try (for free books ;-)

message 3: by David (new) - added it

David how does that work?

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