The Joys of Nudging
November 10, 2010

Cover of "Nudge: Improving Decisions Abou...
Cover via Amazon

Recently I had the opportunity to read about half of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s famous book Nudge.┬áIt was more or less what I expected: a broad overview of different observations about human behavior from the young field of behavior economics, followed by a series of arguments for various policies that utilize those behaviors in a constructive way. The biggest surprise of the book — given Cass Sunstein’s reputation as a “non-ideological pragmatist” and his current employer’s reputation as same — was how willing Thaler and Sunstein were to engage with the philosophical arguments for and against their doctrine of libertarian paternalism. Burke was cited, as was Rawls.

As for libertarian paternalism, and nudging itself, I’m basically onboard. I’ve argued before that public policy can’t help but influence social norms, and so policy makers need to think about how to influence them in a productive manner; this book provides a handy conceptual framework in which to do that. It goes without saying that the concept has limited utility (Sunstein’s proposals for how we can nudge conspiracy theorists are kind of disturbing), but it also adds some much-needed texture to notions about what constitutes good policy.

For the economically inclined
September 18, 2008

What are some good questions for me to ask NYU professor/Cassandra of Wall Street Nouriel Roubini? Leave some in the comments, and I’ll ask my favorites if I manage to get an interview.

Deficit Reduction: Winning the Lottery versus Winning the War
July 7, 2008

Since John McCain doesn’t know dick about either the economy or the Iraq War, but is better at faking knowledge of the latter, it makes sense that he would try to change the subject from one to the other at every available opportunity. But reducing the deficit by winning the war? Seriously?

It would actually make more sense to just play the lottery and hope for a stroke of luck. I mean, right now we’re spending $341.4 million per day in Iraq. Why not just buy 341.4 million lottery tickets? At least a couple of those have got to be winners. Plus: playing the lottery, on average, results in a whopping zero fatalities. Versus warfare, which … well, you know.

Christmas has come early
June 30, 2008

And Santa Claus is a creepy, expressionless robot.

According to Mike Allen at The Politico, Mitt Romney, our dream veep candidate, is topping McCain’s veep short list. The only thing standing in Mitt’s way, apparently, is his being such a tool.

Actually, if he’s going to pull this off, toolishness might be the only thing he has going for him. That, and his chameleon-like ability to become any type of oily and unpleasant.

Chicken Soup and ANWR Drilling for the Soul
June 24, 2008

So apparently John McCain’s energy policy is now based around the “pyschological impact” of those studies instead of, you know, tangible results. Which I guess explains his support of the gas tax holiday.

Here are a few other planks in his energy strategy:

-Free Prozac for everyone.
-Once a week, he will give a special address to the nation in which he will remind us how very important and special we are.
-Federal law mandating that all small businesses provide stress balls for their employees.
-Secretary of Energy: Tony Robbins
-Widespread distribution of boogie boards to increase the fun and reduce the negative psychological impact of all the polar icecaps melting.
-Will promise to practice fake smile more, plans to have it upgraded from “horrifying ghoul-thing” to “electrocution victim” by 2012.

The number one threat to our economy
June 23, 2008


Yes, technically it is true that if a terrorist blew up America, that would be just awful for our economy. And if trees made everyone kill themselves, that would probably also be bad for the economy.

And if the monster from Cloverfield stomped all over Wall Street, obviously the stock market would be in pretty poor shape.

Should I keep going?

Please, just let this election end
May 6, 2008

Matthew Yglesias makes the prediction that today won’t change a damn thing and we’ll be watching Clinton and Obama trade barbs on TV until the sun finally goes supernova and envelops us in merciful, purifying flame. I’m one to agree. This race will never end and it will only get stupider and stupider. Why? Because, as Slayer would say, God Hates Us All.

If you want any further proof of the celestial deity’s cold indifference/hatred, check out this clip of a Clinton surrogate gleefully earfucking those spectators who haven’t already given up on rational thought:

IT HURTS. See, if Clinton had used the “I don’t think it’s a good idea to consult experts when it comes to issues I don’t understand” line once then it would be a stupid, spur-of-the-moment pander. But no, it’s becoming more and more clear that this singularly vapid assertion is a central plank of her argument for the gas tax holiday. It’s actually being included in her surrogates’ fucking talking points! What the FUCK?!!

Just kill me. Just kill me now.

Putting her lot in
May 5, 2008

Over at the ol’ stomping grounds, Dean Baker is mad.

Yesterday on one of the Sunday morning talk shows Clinton said: “When the federal government, through the Fed and Treasury, gave $30 billion in a bailout to Bear Stearns, I didn’t hear anybody jump in and say, ‘That’s not going according to the market, that’s rewarding irresponsible behavior.'”

I feel personally insulted and so should everyone connected with TPMCafe. As you all know, that is exactly what I have been screaming at the top of my lungs. In fact, I’ve said this so many times, that many of you are sick of hearing it.

And I didn’t just say it at TPMCafe. I also said it at The American Prospect, Truthout, the Guardian, and Common Dreams. In fact, I’ve also said this in such prominent news outlets as the Lehrer News Hour and The New York Times.

Uhhh, Senator? Maybe the reason you didn’t hear much of the dissent on economic issues is because you don’t like to listen to actual economists when it comes to that shit. Which is totally understandable. Because economics is, like, soooooooo boring.

On the plus side, this means Clinton is less of a panderer than I thought! When she said that she didn’t pay attention to economists, I thought that was just a another attempt to grab the “anti-elitist” label in the dumbest way possible. But it turns out she was actually serious. Uh, yay?

Who the hell consults economists about the economy?
May 4, 2008

Hillary Clinton pulls a McCain:

From Hillary Clinton, after being asked if there’s a single economist who thinks a gas tax holiday makes sense:

“Well, I’ll tell you what, I’m not going to put my lot in with economists.”

This is the kind of quote that makes me want to drink a lot of bleach. Not just a little. A lot. Regardless of how else you feel about Clinton, isn’t she supposed to be smarter than this? But I guess when your opponent has an insurmountable lead, the only campaign strategy left to you is tackling every single pander with all the enthusiasm is a starving man on a raft trying to eat his weaker, chunkier fellow survivor. Which is to say it’s as notable for the desperation and futility involved as the amorality of it.

This is called “jumping the shark.” Except, given the recent history of Clinton’s campaign, it’s more like she jumped ten sharks, then decided to turn around and re-jump some of the bigger ones.

The gas tax holiday: So dumb, even Tom Friedman thinks it’s stupid
April 30, 2008


In other news, Friedman still writes at the New York Times? Up until he got hit in the face with that pie last week, I had kind of forgotten that he existed.

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