Thursday, April 2, 2009

Nudge: decision architecture - LSE podcast review

Last year there was an earlier lecture by Richard Thaler about Nudge on the UChannel Podcast and I reviewed it in December. What struck me at the time was the technocratic nature of Nudge. Here I'll take a look at other aspects.

This time Richerd Thaler spoke at the London School of Economics (on the LSE Events podcast) and it was a different, evolved probably, lecture by now. There were fewer examples of nudges, but more of the idea that in decision-making people tend to be human and not optimizing calculating economists. The whole idea of nudge is to help people quickly make decisions optimizing requires, without going through all the calculations.

Thaler calls his model one of libertarian paternalism. It is libertarian in the sense that freedom of choice is maintained. Options should be open, but paternalistically, people are nudged towards the choice that is deemed better for them (or for society that is). Nudge offers an alternative for policymakers who want to influence people's behavior and usually seize legal methods, either through taxation, obligation or punishment. Thaler shows that simply by creating a decision architecture, you can effortlessly induce people to go for the best decisions, because those decisions are easier, they stand out or form the default or seem to be better as the decision makers are informed of relevant data such as the choices other people made. I wonder how radical this approach is to social science.

More LSE Events:
The EU and the Middle East,
The British Mandate in Palestine,
Iran Today,
Science and Religion,
The crisis.

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Good climate for everyone - UChannel on global warming

I had never thought there would be something like climate engineering until I heard a podcast from UChannel Podcast. Daniel Schrag of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University was invited to speak about this subject at Princeton University, the home ground of UChannel Podcast. Climate engineering is what the word suggests: technological interference with the earth's climate and this is neither science fiction nor a list of possible measures that are all too expensive to contemplate.

There is little talk of what can be done, because, naturally the talk focuses on the ethics of the subject. If we can, should we be allowed. Or as Schrag has it, if we can and the dangers of global warming are as great as we can possibly fear, then maybe we must. But Schrag is no ethicist, he is a geologist, so he is most at ease and informative when dealing with the relevant facts. A bit of what can be done and a whole lot of what range of challenges and dangers are involved with global warming and the science of predicting its effects.

The magnitude of the subject is overwhelming and I must admit, I have an intuitive reaction against climate engineering. I think, messing with the environment got us in the bad shape we are in, do we need more messing. Promising a Mediterranean climate for everyone sounds worse than too good to be true, it sounds like the words of the sorcerer's apprentice. Schrag pays attention to these intuitions and replies to them. His tendency, as stated above: the situation is so bad, we have no choice. It is like applying a tourniquet to prevent us from bleeding to death. Indeed, you wouldn't apply a tourniquet to a healthy person. Question remains: do we really know how sick we are?

More UChannel Podcast:
Robots and War,
Sudan and the fallacy of nationhood,
Against intervention,
Lakhdar Brahimi on Afghanistan and Iraq,
Europe versus Islam.

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