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Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008)

by Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,696483,649 (3.52)38
Thaler and Sunstein offer a groundbreaking discussion of how to apply the science of choice to nudge people toward decisions that can improve their lives without restricting their freedom of choice.
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» See also 38 mentions

English (45)  French (1)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (48)
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
This book was written shortly before Barack Obama’s election as U.S. President. Notably, that time was also just before the Great Recession. In that light, this book seems to suggest an ending to the deep conflicts between the world-views of conservative and liberal Baby Boomers and an opening to some sort of resolution of their tensions.

It attempts to paint a middle way between economic conservatives (libertarians) and economic liberals (paternalists), a way called “libertarian paternalism.” This philosophy tries to preserve freedom of choice while allowing a suggested choice (a “nudge”) in the “choice architecture.” By way of reading this over a decade after composition, such a setup is currently practiced through opting into or out of default decisions.

Likewise, in light of ten years of history, this book does not seem quite as revolutionary as it did in the days of Obama’s via media. Much of the new sparkilness of a middle way to solve our national problems has dissipated into entrenched warfare between an old way and a new way. Perhaps voices like Thaler’s and Sunstein’s will end up ruling the day. However, the present and the expected near-future seem bleak in light of the lack of receptivity towards proposals based on intelligence alone. Academically, decision theory (the field of this text) has continued to prove ascendant, and the field’s novelty has been a victim of its own success. This book has played its own role in these stories. It is interesting to peruse its pages with that knowledge.

Nonetheless, it is striking to read the breadth of impact that this acclaimed pair cite. From marriage and homosexuality to organ donation, from the design of urinals to the defaults in workplace benefits, a wide berth of worlds is considered. The scope speaks to the erudition of these economists.

One avenue not much considered by this book is the role of artificial intelligence in selecting such default choices. Will computers prove to be the most enlightened choice architecture? Can instant analyses influence the choice architecture so that human can make better decisions? Time and history will tell. This work should continue to inspire the minds of thoughtful people for a while, and it will sit in the annals of economic history some time to come. ( )
  scottjpearson | Feb 11, 2020 |
Lots of disjointed thoughts here, collected:

They want to help the "least sophisticated" people make fewer mistakes with nudges in the right direction. Are (poor) people less sophisticated, or do they simply have fewer resources and less ability to make mistakes? (Or am I being touchy and is this saying the same thing?)

The RECAP idea made me laugh a little. The techno-optimism is rather extreme. Do you lose "Humans" when you present them with spreadsheets? With proof that financial education doesn't work (that they cite later on!), would requiring high schoolers to use these spreadsheets (as they suggest) be effective?

"Save More Tomorrow," increasing savings rates as people get regular pay increases, assumes that people's wages DO regularly increase, or that they even outpace inflation, which simply isn't the case for many workers anymore.

On school choice: In the end, if you aren't doing something to change how schools are funded (and the circumstances children grow up in), you are still choosing winners and losers. Even given spreadsheets or fact cards, parents with fewer resources will do less to act against inertia.

And as someone who has worked in nonprofits, the Charity Debit Card idea made me laugh. How many people give enough to itemize? Are they the people who need to benefit from an easier tax deduction? Are they motivated to give for that reason, and bookkeeping is what's holding them back? I'd like to find out more about how well FSA has worked -- I know for many people it's more trouble than it's worth. (Not to mention the logistics of billing a charity dinner where not all of your donation is tax-deductible, since part of the price is assumed to pay for your wine and chicken Parm.)

One thing that came up for me over and over was their idea that sunshine is the best disinfectant -- so much so that simply publishing the names of polluting firms or the financial backers of politicians will end the possibility of corruption. I think that there are industries that are too large and too powerful to be impacted by negative publicity (at least in a timely manner; see Monsanto, see Keystone, see even US policy on Guantanamo). There are also industries that can use their power to stop that sort of sunshine to begin with (see Ag Gag laws). It may be Pollyanna-ish of them to assume this won't happen; it may be doom-and-gloom of me to assume it will.

They also mention in passing that Social Security may be on the brink of insolvency, and that subprime loans were not all bad, which, no. ( )
  mirnanda | Dec 27, 2019 |
The first couple chapters are general and interesting -- though the intended audience is 'choice architects,' or the people who set up systems for other people to use to make decisions, and not the individuals making decisions. (The subtitle is a bit misleading.)

The second half of the book examines individual situations and gets a bit boring. ( )
  akaGingerK | Sep 30, 2018 |
I finished Nudge and hit my goal of 52 books in 2017. This is the book my work book club is reading for our first meeting. I made the mistake of suggesting a book I hadn't read. Why do I break my own rules? I thought this was going to be like Freakanomics or Power of Habit, but it was really dry and wonky. I found the libertarian paternalism concept interesting, but I think Thaler's book Misbehaving is much better written. ( )
  strandbooks | Feb 25, 2018 |
Whenever people have to make a choice, “Choice Architecture” is unavoidable. Whether to have a default option, the sequence of options, the wording, etc. all affect the decision of users. The book argues that in choices where people are not familiar with the impact of their choice either because they must do so infrequently or because of the complexity of the choices, it behooves organizations (including government), to “nudge” people to make a choice that is in their best interest. ( )
  RLHorton | Feb 13, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
But regardless of whether Thaler and Sunstein’s ideas are ideologically neutral, most of them are the essence of common sense.
Although Nudge has no positive redeeming qualities, there is some value in what it reveals about contemporary politics. Thaler and Sunstein have unwittingly exposed an increasingly popular approach to whittling away freedom in America.

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Richard H. Thalerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sunstein, Cass R.main authorall editionsconfirmed
Bausum, ChristophTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
James, LloydNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pratt, SeanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For France, who makes everything in life better, even this book. - RHT
For Ellyn, who knows when to nudge her father. - CRS
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A friend of ours, Carolyn, is the director of food services for a large city school system.
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