Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

Richard H. Thaler

Book cover

I read this as part of a book club at work–they were reading it, and I figured it was something I should read at some point. I think the ideas have filtered into the public consciousness enough by now that I didn’t feel like I learned much new (so I guess I was wrong to think I should read it at some point). The idea of a “nudge”–altering the presentation of options in a choice situation so as to encourage desired behavior, while preserving the fundamental underlying right to choose (not imposing too much cost)–is a good one, but I think the authors oversell its value. There are a couple of very valuable policy ideas, such as opt-out enrollment for retirement plans, but the well starts to run dry pretty quickly, and soon the authors are talking about putting fly stickers in urinals. A worthy tool for a policymaker’s kit, but not more than that. Unfortunately, I also think that the scope for private sector companies to uses nudges to enrich themselves is much greater than the scope for government to use nudges for the common good. I don’t blame the authors for that, of course.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars