Archive for December, 2009

A sporadic saver’s dilemma

December 10, 2009

Three senators have proposed a law that would require employers to tell their 401(k) participants how much money they are projected to earn each month based on the current balance of their account. Since most Americans don’t have much money in their 401(k) accounts, the disclosure would quickly highlight how much more they need to save. For instance, the average 401(k) account produces just $225 a month in income. From there, one of two things could happen.

Best case, they increase the amount they contribute to their 401(k), which presently averages 7%. Or, worst case, they increase the amount they invest in stocks, thus increasing their exposure to market risk. At the moment, the evidence seems to suggest that many workers don’t have a clue about how to invest the money in their 401(k)s.

For older workers who need their retirement nest eggs soon, the worst case scenario is potentially devastating. Full story at Marketwatch.


Why aren’t dual flush valves the default choice in public bathrooms?

December 10, 2009

Tom Vanderbilt sends along this photo from a Stanford restroom. It’s a simple idea that seems like it should be everywhere.

Nudge: officially approved by Greg Mankiw’s class

December 9, 2009

Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw regularly teaches a small freshman seminar. This fall, the students read ten books. Nudge was their second pick. Top choice? Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom. Hopefully Nudge is more Eric Dickerson than Ryan Leaf.

A nudge especially for delivery drivers

December 4, 2009

Reader Quinton Cheney passes along a nudge for anyone who is constantly losing pens when they ask other people for their signatures.

I’ve worked as a delivery driver for two years, and I’ve given away countless pens in that time to customers who pay with credit cards. True, asking for my pen back is only a minor inconvenience (unless the customer took the receipt to the next room to sign). Regardless, when I realized most of these thefts were accidental, I started to wonder if I might somehow nudge customers into giving my pens back.

What I came up with has been a definite success: I wait until the customer answers the door to remove the pen cap (or click/twist capless pens). My hypothesis is that customers seeing me briefly manipulate the pen helps cement it as mine in their minds, at least for long enough to complete the transaction.

If you’re someone who is always losing pens because of your own absent-mindedness, you might take a tip from comedian Mitch Hedberg: “I bought a seven-dollar pen because I always lose pens and I got sick of not caring.”

Do you know a “positive deviant”?

December 3, 2009

Do you know any “outliers in a community who, despite having no special advantages, are doing exceptionally well.” They could be the key to promoting social change by reshaping social norms. Hat tip: Freakonomics.

Assorted links

December 2, 2009

1) A classroom nudge for college professors. Include one lie in each lecture and ask students to point out the error. They’ll pay attention to the material more closely.

Hat tip: David de Souza

2) Enviromedia, friend of the Nudge blog and the creator of, a tool for ferreting out misleading green ads, has unveiled a new web site,, to help people decode the language of climate change. The United Nation’s climate change conference is this month in Copenhagen.

3) Philadelphia now requires that lenders and homeowners meet in person prior to foreclosure. Will these meetings lessen foreclosure rates?

Hat tip: Christopher Daggett

4) Tips for remembering your reusable grocery bag.

Hat tip: Katie Astofer

5) Because it’s just too good to resist. From a 1952 Life magazine.

Hat tip: Thought Gadgets

The seventh most influential thinkers of 2009

December 1, 2009

Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein took behavioralism from “niche to necessary” this year, writes Foreign Policy magazine. The Nudge duo are honored.