Everyone Should Nudge More
“It’s hard to think radically about topics we feel passionately about.”
As part of my simplifying down I’ve started reading just one book a month. I used to try to read as many as possible but that gave me no time to reflect and review what I read. The first book for 2018 was a carry over from 2017. Nudge, by Nobel Prize winners, Thaler and Sunstein. I discovered this book while listening to the Freakonomics Podcast. I loved it from page one. They describe their approach as “Libertarian Paternalism,” a “Third Way” for our divided political landscape.
What really excited me was how the Nudge principles could be applied to controversial social topics. The goal being to find a vocabulary and tool set for nudging people towards an outcome. Instead of trying to pass laws to mandate compliance. When we try to legislate behavior in either direction we are forcing people to live their lives in away that is not always mutually beneficial or sustainable. The push back against that approach only feeds partisan divide and can close communication channels.
The marriage equality example from the book is the perfect introduction to how a nudge can work better than a Supreme Court decision. Thaler and Sunstein argue that the simpler way to have dealt with the debate would have been to leave marriage a function of private institutions (the Church) and have the state only issue and recognize Civil Union/Partnership documents. The state would enforce protections for health and asset benefits of Unions/Partnerships not Marriages. This approach allows the state to wash its hands from the Marriage debate. Additionally, those who want to be on the antiquated side of history can remain there and progressives get the egalitarian recognition they want from the state.
- Map behavior decisions towards an incentivized outcome.
- Influence don’t legislate.
- Feedback through data can increase engagement in complex activities and reduce errors.
- Too many choices can be a bad thing.
Background on Nudge Principles
Automatic vs. Reflective Brain
The Automatic brain is the animal instinctive side of us. The Reflective brain is the experienced and thoughtful side of us. Nudge wisdom comes in how it uses the smart analysis of the reflective brain to direct the automatic brain down the right path.
- Understand Mappings
- Give Feedback
- Expect Errors
- Structure Complex Choices
Choice Architecture is the application of Nudge principles to the design of decision making opportunities to shape successful outcomes.
There are lots of great digestible examples at www.Nudges.org. These examples will help illuminate the benefits of Choice Architecture. I recommend reading the book. It can be read in 10 pages a night and you’ll be better for it.
Progressive Passions & Nudges
I try not to just call someone narrow-minded when they disagree with some of my more progressive ideas. There is so much that goes into why someone is entrenched in a position. Even knowing the full background, you’ll spend a whole lifetime trying to change even one mind. So, stop changing minds and look at the behavior and ask how Choice Architecture and a Nudge can achieve a balanced outcome for all. Below are three examples of issues I’ve been pretty passionate about myself and how I would nudge a change in thinking about them.
Instead of fighting against Voter ID laws, progressives should follow Oregon’s example and apply it everywhere. That is, push for an Opt-Out Voting Registration System. When you go in to get your License or ID you have to provide legal status docs. That system is in place in almost every state now, thanks to the REAL ID act. Those that meet Citizenship requirements would be automatically registered to vote. You have to actively request to not be registered. Even better, just don’t vote.
This approach ends hours and millions of dollars of legal battles. It also allows for the enforcement of ID laws that conservatives want but in a setting you’re already used to, the DMV. As a carrot, progressives can offer up automatic gun license registration to be paired with it in order to pass such a measure.
In Georgia we can’t buy alcohol at restaurants and Grocery Stores before noon on Sundays. We call these laws the Sunday Blues laws. They are completely Religious in their origin and objectives. The State is trampling all over the idea of Separation of Church and State by legislating this issue.
A compromise and more of a nudging approach would be to impose a weekend alcohol sales tax that helps fund programs to support the victims of drunk driving. Make it as much as 5% higher than weekday sales. You’ll push more people to buy from grocery stores during the weekday and make the issue about public safety on weekends versus Religious preferences. We essentially do this same thing with cigarette sales.
The argument from Progressives has long been about reproductive rights when it comes to abortion. I think that the discussion needs to be more upstream about preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place. This conversation really starts in the teenage years. Again, an opt-out system could work here.
Consider a “Dollar a Day” program to help prevent more teenage pregnancies. Like the Hope Scholarship, create a fund that puts a dollar a day from middle school through high school graduation into the account of every girl. That money could then be used for college. That account grows for everyday they are not pregnant before 18. Parents could opt their daughters out but who would really want to do that. For boys their could be a match for not ending up a teenage father.
We’re talking about $365 a year per kid for six years. Compared to the systemic cost of what unwanted teenage pregnancies put on the collective system. Those are dollars that can be compared against the diminished economic productivity of each teenage parent. Also against the draws on social entitlement systems like Medicare, Medicaid, housing and food assistance, etc.. Lastly, consider the diminished education and social mobility opportunities for each student. The $365 per year is nothing compared to these costs.
I love the idea of nudging versus legislating behavior. It takes practice and ideally the ability to measure the results. So, beyond using Nudges in the public space, I try to think of my own personal Nudges to help me everyday. Below are some ways I try to nudge my short-term actions to align to my long-term goals.
- Un-subscribe from all but the most critical emails to reduce information overload.
- Use content blockers to block ads and social media to reduce distraction.
- Use the Reminders App to prompt completing certain routine tasks on a consistent basis.
- Block off hours of the day when I work best on creative tasks and leave certain times open for meetings.
- Set the lights, TV, and mobile alerts to shut off an hour before target bedtime.
- Charge phone far away from bed..