The Ministry of Nudges

A few days ago, the lead story in the New York Times Sunday Business Section was about behavioral economics. The article rightly gave a lot of credit to popularizing these ideas to “Nudge” by Thaler and Sunnstein. Read at your pleasure, including the oft-quoted example from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

I have used behavioral economics in my teaching and consulting for many years, and found the article interesting on a number of counts. First, it is interesting in and of itself to read about the history of the Behavioral Insights Team and some of their successes.

Second, it is interesting to see how ideas from existing disciplines are brought under new umbrellas/tents/paradigms. In this case, much is made of the nudge that invokes objective norms, which is pretty familiar stuff to social scientists. (Those of you who subscribe to the Georgetown social marketing listserv will have noted a post discussing the relationship of behavioral economics to social marketing).

Third, I also find the questions about whether nudging is ethical, or appropriate for government as opposed to private enterprise, very interesting reading and fuel for discussion.


About Larry Hershfield
I have been developing innovative services and products for the public health community since 1975.

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