Assorted links and excerpts

Michael Schrage of MIT wishes Amazon.com’s recommendation choice architecture could automatically distinguish between books he buys, books he browses, and books he buys as gifts for other people.

Lengthy interview with Richard Thaler in Fairfield Weekly by a former Ph.D. student of his, Phil Maymin. Thaler took the World’s Smallest Political Quiz and came up as a “libertarian.” But he corrected the record and called himself a “libertarian paternalist.” Thaler also explains the origins of the phrase libertarian paternalism.

The history of this phrase is that I was presenting a paper here at the University of Chicago on the “Save More Tomorrow” program, and a guy in the Economics Department was my discussant and he accused me of being a paternalist. Which as you know is the biggest insult that you can accuse anybody of being at the University of Chicago. And I said, “Well, I guess, but there’s no coercion here, so, maybe you should call me a libertarian paternalist.” That’s where it started.

David Leonhardt on how loss aversion affects our sense of inflation.

Dan Goldstein recalls a stickk.com-esque commitment strategy for finishing his dissertation. The ending is great.

I am reminded of the time I was a postdoc at Columbia University, on the job market, and deep in a publish-or-perish the phase of my career. I instituted a similar (though lower-tech) mechanism. My rule was that if I didn’t write a certain number of pages each day, I would lose five dollars. I think I lost about $60 on the scheme, though it did land me a job I love.

I remember being seriously conflicted about whom to give the money to if I procrastinated. I felt that if I gave it to a good cause, I would be continually justifying my procrastination as charitable. I felt that if I gave it to a bad cause, that would be evil. I also feared that I would start justifying my procrastination by telling myself the bad cause isn’t so bad. (Sound far-fetched? The idea that we might infer our preferences from our actions is a key, if not field-defining, idea from social psychology.)

In the end, I chose to leave the money on a seat on the New York subway. Maybe a good person would find it, maybe a bad person would find it, all I was certain of was regretting my procrastination. Given that you’re not evil, if you found $5 on the 1/9 train around 2005, I hope that it inched you closer to your goals.

Amol Agrawal thinks a restaurant in Powai is using behavioral economics to jack up his bill.

Paul Sweeney sends an email about an anti-nudge at his gym. What awaits members, courtesy of the gym’s owners, after they leave the dressing room following healthy workouts? Snickers bars on the counter.


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