Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness is a fascinating book written by Richard H. Thaler, a University of Chicago economist and Cass R. Sunstein, a professor at Harvard Law School. The main focus of Nudge is to show that contrary to the depiction of a rational, self-interested human that economic theory often presents, us humans do end up making bad decisions that affect us in several ways and throughout several years. Sometimes we don’t make the best decision about our health, or we don’t save enough money for retirement, and we could also make a career choice that will make us unhappy down the line.
The authors offer alternatives, most of which are rather politically-neutral despite being partially based on what appears to be their own political ideologies; a mixture of Libertarianism and Paternalism. The overall point is not to restrict the choices we have throughout society, but to instead offer up a plate of better choices.
A leading example found in Nudge concerns schoolchildren in a school cafeteria. For years there has been an ongoing struggle between governments, schools, parents and even the children themselves over the available options for school lunches. There are many who believe that it is up to the parents to decide what they eat, and do not want the school acting on behalf of the government to set strict choices on foods. On the other hand, in recent years there have been several government-backed initiatives to encourage better eating habits. Ultimately, one can see why improving their eating habits would be beneficial to children – it is hard to argue against that one.
The authors believe that a good options would be to nudge the children in a better, expert approved direction without limiting their rightful choice to eat junk food if they desire to do so. One way to achieve this, as studies have shown, rests on how the food is presented to them. Putting the healthier food options at eye level and within easy reach, rather than the junk food, may nudge the children into making better choices. Of course, they still have the ability to choose to eat junk food. The same concept can work at home for parents, and can even help adults learn to make better choices. If the bag of potato chips is easier to get to than an apple, which would you most likely choose?
Nudge is all about how to help individuals and even governments learn to better decisions. The book covers several controversial issues, from Medicaid to Social Security and even same-sex marriage. But it is clear that the authors make attempts to ground their explanations on credible research and studies.