Monday, December 31, 2012

Noodges Who Nudge

Since Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler popularized, in their 2009 book Nudge, the behavioral economics notion of improving individual (self-interested) choices, e.g., by altering default options, providing better information, improving choice architectures, etc., the idea of nudging has gained a great deal of currency, although controversy remains over whether governments should begin implementing nudges on a large scale. Libertarian scholars, in particular, seem uncomfortable with the very idea of "libertarian paternalism" that Sunstein and Thaler suggest nudging represents (see, e.g., here).

In reality, nudging is not a new idea. What is marketing about, if not to "nudge" consumers toward certain purchasing decisions? This rhetorical question raises what is, I think, an understudied aspect of nudging, which is who does it to whom, and to what effect.

The theory of nudging requires a corresponding theory of noodges (a word of Yiddish/Polish derivation referring to those who nag and pester). Perhaps it's time for Sunstein and Thaler to write a follow-up book called, Noodges: Those Who Seek to Influence our Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Various chapters might be devoted to prelates, yentas, marketing firms, admen, salesmen, ideologues, influence peddlers, public intellectuals, con men, psychiatrists, hypnotists, economists, and Sunstein's own "norm entrepreneurs."

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