Posts Tagged ‘’

Jabbers and blabbers

May 21, 2008

At Freakonomics, Ian Ayres, of, thinks the phrase, “I’ll be brief,” is cheap talk, and proposes a libertarian paternalism commitment device to stop speakers from blabbering on.

Groups might develop a norm to have speakers publicly estimate how many minutes they intend to speak before they begin: Instead of saying, “I’m going to be brief,” it would be a stronger commitment to say to the moderator, “Please interrupt me if I speak more than X minutes.”…

The individual speakers retain the freedom to speak as long as they want, and this new verbal convention would give all of us a credible commitment device. The problem of speakers droning on at conferences and meetings isn’t one of the biggest problems in the world — but it is an example where cognitive error leads to a persistent dysfunction.

Assorted links and excerpts

May 7, 2008

Michael Schrage of MIT wishes’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 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.

Detering a jealous partner

April 6, 2008

The Ethicist takes on a relationship conundrum in which the boyfriend has proposed a solution. He says that his girlfriend’s “jealously marred the early years of our long relationship but gradually abated.” But after a recent outburst of jealous rage, the boyfriend suggested deterring future incidents by putting $1,000 in escrow, which would be forfeited if the girlfriend made another accusation.

The Ethicists’ response? It’s unethical, and if the boyfriend is going to punish her for making false accusations, he should also reward her for true ones.

As to those merits, well, it’s tough to see any amid all the flaws. Here’s one: a loving relationship is not a business relationship. Another: contract law is not the best mechanism for regulating the tender yearnings of the heart. And this: a lover’s feelings, even rage, ought not be so crudely suppressed. Quite the contrary, intimate partners should be free to reveal themselves, to be known and understood. An angry outburst may not be the ideal way to do this, but it is preferable to enforced silence. If you are to cultivate a close connection to another person, you should not promote a plan that discourages her from confiding her feelings or from disclosing herself.

Then there is the matter of symmetry. If you penalize your girlfriend for a false accusation, shouldn’t you reward her for a true one? To do that, you must deposit a similar sum that she would receive if her accusation proved true. Sauce for the goose — the gander, the usual.

Quit smoking for the price of inflation

April 5, 2008

Freakonomics posts a paper by Yale’s Dean Karlan, founder of (officially Nudge-endorsed), titled latest paper “Put Your Money Where Your Butt Is” about an experiment in the Philippines.

Continue reading the post here.