Nudge is a book about “Libertarian Paternalism” – in other words about manipulating people into making better choices that are in their best interests (according to some centralised authority anyway). Tautology aside, the book is a decent take on the more practical (or evil, depending on your point of view) applications of behavioural economics. The book is poplar enough to have spawned the now ubiquitous boardroom term “nudge theory” – otherwise known to consumers and ethicists as “behaviour modification”.

For good or for ill, behavioural economist Richard Thaler and his writing partner Cass Sunstein unleashed nudge theory on the world and into the hands of eager, power-hungry policy makers and greedy marketers around the globe.

Theirs are the dangerous ideas responsible for Discovery’s “behavioural bank”, punitive / rewards based insurance policies (you know, where you sell your soul, I mean your data, in exchange for rewards points or premium discounts when you behave well, and penalties when you do not) and, very possibly, the basis for China’s social credit system which is supposed to “encourage” its hapless population to be “better citizens” (incidentally, this is one of the best articles I’ve read on the whole Orwellian set-up, if you are interested in exploring the subject further).

Also see Thinking Fast and Slow, You and Not So Smart and The Undoing Project. Nudge is my least favourite of these Big Four behavioural economics best sellers, although it is undoubtably the most influential. Read it to understand and master your own irrationality before some power-hungry corporation or corrupt official does it for you.

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