Book Club Review and Discussion – Nudge

I’ve heard a lot of complaints about how this book is paternalist, how the authors think you’re too stupid to make your own decisions, and how it essentially argues in favor of government babysitting.  Clearly, many of these detractors didn’t read the first chapter.

The book opens with a description of a situation in a school cafeteria.  The person who is responsible for stocking the cafeteria has to determine where to shelve each food item.  Where each food item goes impacts the decisions that the kids make when they are choosing their lunches.  The authors outline several strategies the school employee could use to determine how to stock the products; shelving the healthiest food in a place where kids are likely to buy it, shelving food items from a company willing to give the schools a kick back in a place where kids are likely to buy it, etc. The cafeteria HAS to employ a strategy for shelving items. There is no way to give equal access to every single apple and cookie the cafeteria sells. So how is “nudging” kids to eat healthy food taking away their choices?

I think the book makes a lot of good policy arguments. Having an opt-out organ donation program and 401K could help solve a lot of problems, all while doing what people claim they want to do anyway. (When polled, more people indicated they want to be organ donors than actually are.) I like that they argue, in general, for clear, easy-to-access systems of distributing information, such as letter grade placards in the windows of restaurants indicating their latest health inspection.

I had some issues with the book. I don’t feel that they cited everything really well. Any time they came up with a figure or statistic, I wanted to see it endnoted so I could check on their sources. Also, the book can drag a bit in the middle. At times I felt like they were beating a dead horse when trying to make a point.

Read @orphanani’s review here.

She asked specifically about my response to the school choice arguments in Nudge. Frankly, from everything that I have read, the jury is still out on school choice. In some places, including Washington, DC and NYC, test scores, as well as student behavior and graduation rates have improved. In other places, like Minneapolis and Atlanta, the same results haven’t been seen.

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