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A book review of Nudge by Richard D. Trailer, focusing on how the concepts presented in the book can improve health decisions.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness – by Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein

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How often in life do we make a suboptimal decision that ends up plaguing us for a long time afterwards? Sometimes, a single good or bad decision can even directly change the rest of our life.

So, it really is important that we try to optimize the decisions we do make.

Professors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein look at all kinds of decision-making in this book. Their goal, as per the subtitle, is “improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness”.

For the most part, the book concentrates on “nudges”. Small factors that influence our decisions one way or another.

Most importantly: that some of them are very good reasons to be nudged; others, very bad ones. And they often look similar.

Where this book excels is in highlighting the many ways we make decisions without even thinking about it… or we think about it, but only down a prescribed, foreseen track, to an externally expected conclusion (for example, an insurance company offering three packages, but two of them exist only to direct you to the “correct” choice).

A weakness of the book is that in some aspects it’s a little inconsistent. The authors describe their economic philosophy as “libertarian paternalism”, and as libertarians they’re against mandates, except when as paternalists they’re for them. But, if we take away their labels, this boils down to “some mandates can be good and some can be bad”, which would not be so inconsistent after all.

Bottom line: if you’d like to better understand your own decision-making processes through the eyes of policy-setting economists (especially Sunstein, who worked for the White House Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs) whose job it is to make sure you make the “right” decisions, then this is a very enlightening book.

Click here to check out Nudge and improve your decision-making clarity!

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