This week GOFAD further highlights some of the main issues in the book, Nudge The Final Version referred to in last week's Blog. Then, we explored the characteristics of people who insist on their rights not to be vaccinated and provided some conclusions, among others that:
It was therefore quite heartening to listen to an exhortation (below) from The Honourable Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, which by coincidence or design fully reflects the views in Nudge The Final Version. Co-authored by Richard Thaler one of the most important behavioral economists in the world and 2017 Nobel Prize Laureate and Cass Sunstein, it is a follow up to Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness written in 2008 that has sold millions of copies worldwide and influenced governments and businesses alike. It has given rise to more than 200 “nudge units” in governments around the world and expanding groups of behavioral scientists in every part of the economy. It has advanced the idea “choice architecture” to help us make better decisions for ourselves, our families and our societies.
More specifically, the first four chapters of the book have changed little between the two versions. They set out the basic framework of an approach, referred to as “libertarian paternalism” by which consumers and citizens can be “nudged” to make decisions of their own that guide them and society toward a more perfect union.
In this final version there are many new themes, and some surprises. The authors advance the thesis that one way to nudge people to do something is to make it easy to do. The opposite is sludge when institutions try to prevent people from doing something by making it hard to do. They advocate that every organization should create a seek‑and‑destroy mission for unnecessary sludge.
This Final version is chock-full of new ideas. Two important topics are given new chapters. The first what they call Smart Disclosure. The idea is that governments should consider the radical thought of moving at least into the 21st century in the way they disclose important information. In their view, the Internet is not exactly a cutting‑edge technology. Widespread use of Smart Disclosure makes it possible to create online decision‑making tools called "choice engines", which can make many tasks as easy: for example, finding the best route to get to a new restaurant.
The second is their effective argument against “required choice”, preferring instead for vendors and governments to provide transparent information, such as labeling products that contain shellfish or peanuts so that those allergic to them can avoid buying them. Still, they allow that there are instances in which required choice is the best solution. One should be able to choose whether to buy one kind of canned soup over another but perhaps not to dictate the ingredients of every restaurant meal. Thaler and Sunstein deliver a spirited argument to enable well-informed people to overcome various biases and “probabilistic harms” to do what is best for them and, in the present case, their fellow “Humans.”
The authors devoted a chapter responding to objections to nudges. However, Instead of pursuing each criticism they used them collectively as an opportunity “to offer a book that will feel fresher, be more fun, and less dusty to those reading it for the first time, or even to those returning for another look, at the application of nudges". To say the least, among the major happenings in the intervening years, COVID and Climate change are among the most destabilizing to human development. But Nudge continues to attract interest, and the empirical evidence indicates that there is little value in tinker with it , even though status quo bias remains a strong force.
The book offers fresh looks devoted to helping consumers make better choices with their money; prod more in-depth discussion of issues like climate change, education and health that provoke behaviorally informed policy changes in an assortment of domains not previously explored.
In a recent interview, Thaler found it necessary to stress that no attempt was made to bring readers up to date on the remarkable nudge‑related activities, reforms, and research that have come about in recent years. Governments all over the world have been nudging, often for good, and the private sector has also been exceptionally inventive. Academic research has grown by leaps and bounds. “To explore these developments would take an entirely new book, and in fact many such books have been written, some even by Sunstein. Indeed, Sunstein has co-edited a four‑volume collection of papers on this topic”
This Blog has barely tapped the fringes of this fascinating work, whose essence I believe is even more relevant as our public health officials and political leaders confront the pervasiveness of COVID-19. Nudge The Final Version brings to the forefront the value of social and behavioral scientists. It touches on a wider issue to be further explored. It shows how studies in fields dedicated to social and behavioral phenomena, are in the unique position of helping policy makers to understand issues from a scientific perspective, while also navigating their inevitable impact on society. This dynamic brings up questions about the role of scientists in a changing world. To what extent should they engage in advocacy or activism on social and political issues? Should they be impartial investigators, active advocates, something in between?. It helps in understanding the ways in which science and advocacy are coming into contact in practice : more specifically, in this case, is of the balance between nudges and mandates. Indeed from the perspective of the small states of the Caribbean, Prime Minister Mottley's approach appears to be spot
Prime Minister Mottley's Conversation with Barbados - YouTube
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.