Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

Recently I read the book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein. This book goes about describing paternal libertarianism, the belief that although everyone is free to make their own choices, society is morally obligated to nudge them in the right direction by biasing those choices. I don’t remember where I first heard of this book, but I’m glad that I read it.

Nudge is about choices - how we make them and how we can make better ones. Drawing on decades of research in the fields of behavioral science and economics, authors Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein offer a new perspective on preventing the countless mistakes we make-ill-advised personal investments, consumption of unhealthy foods, neglect of our natural resources-and show us how sensible “choice architecture” can successfully nudge people toward the best decisions. In the tradition of The Tipping Point and Freakonomics, Nudge is straightforward, informative, and entertaining-a must-read for anyone interested in our individual and collective well-being.

The book started off strong by describing what paternal libertarianism is and how it is an important concept to own. The authors were articulate in describing why and how the concept is relevant and also spent a good bit of time dissecting what paternalism and libertarianism is on their own. I generally agree that people should be “nudged” to make decisions that are best for them and that the act of nudging someone should be transparent. When the nudge isn’t transparent, it can be associated with manipulation, which undermines the purpose of the nudge. An underlying message of the book is that totally free markets are dangerous because human individuals are not very good decision makers.

The first three chapters were probably my favorite. The rest of the book felt a little bare. The majority of the book covers several examples of people and groups being nudged regarding retirement, savings and investment. I would have enjoyed the rest of the book much more if there was more variety in the examples of how nudging can be used and what the end result was. With that, I still recommend this book.