Books

Book Review: Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein

I would continue the book’s title with words: of citizens. The question is, should governments and other agencies nudge people to act to their best interests (according to them and science)? If the answer is yes, then how? The simple answer is to look and follow the science of human behavior and make things simple and easier to reach, achieve, do, and understand. I can agree with the last part. That, if we want governments to work and people to do well with their health and finance, then information and services should be easy to access and understand. Also, I agree about painting lines on the tricky part of the road to make drivers slow down. But there is still one part of me that was confused with the whole nudge argument.

Maybe I’m the wrong target for this discussion as I’m not American. I come from a country where the government does and will nudge its people to act better. Not that we have those easy programs and accessible information or organ donor plan that you automatically belong, and you have to do something if you don’t want your intestines to be used they talk about in the book. But we are closer to that than some parts of the world with healthy school lunches, and other forms of nudges as the book puts it. That said, I understand both sides of the argument. People should be left alone to make their own decisions, yes. But then again, if we can better people’s lives with little invasion, then why shouldn’t we? The writers of the book are right about one thing, we are not logical, econs, and often enough don’t act according to our best interest. Still, who can say what is to our best interest? What career to pick? What path to take in life? How can anyone see so far that they can certainly say to someone else that they have to do as told because it will lead to greater happiness, health, and security? But what if those are not the goals of the person? What if, through pain, they can create something new and out of the ordinary which the adviser can’t even imagine with their boxed thinking?

That is the trouble with foretelling and “I have the right answer on how to behave.” But don’t worry, the book doesn’t go that far. As I wrote before, mostly, it is about health and finance. If arranging the school cafeteria according to behavioral scientists so that the children will fill their plate with healthy options, is that such a bad thing? I guess the trouble is why this book is needed is the thought of slippery slope of control going farther than it should. It is an important question to ask, and I liked this book because of that. Yet, I don’t think I know the answer after reading the book. All I can do is ponder and take things case by case without drawing big policies.

I got sidetracked. So what about the book? The thing is that a lot of it was familiar to me from other social science books, especially about behavior and how the human mind works. But that says nothing about the book, more about my interest and what I have already read. It is a good opening for thinking and speaking about how much control governments should have over their citizens in the name of good. The best part is that the writers don’t only academically argue about the issues but suggest how and why it should be done. But this might be hard to read for those who have clear black and white convictions of what role the government should have. Nice book to have around.

Thank you for reading! I nudge you to say one kind thing to yourself.

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