The Situationist

Archive for April 12th, 2008

Changing Choices by Changing Situations

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 12, 2008

Nudge CoverEconomic behavioralists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein have a new book, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness. The book does a great job of illustrating some of the ways that situation influences our behavior and how adjustments to the situation might lead to behavior and outcomes that we prefer.

From the publisher:

Every day, we make decisions on topics ranging from personal investments to schools for our children to the meals we eat to the causes we champion. Unfortunately, we often choose poorly. The reason, the authors explain, is that, being human, we all are susceptible to various biases that can lead us to blunder. Our mistakes make us poorer and less healthy; we often make bad decisions involving education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, the family, and even the planet itself.

Thaler and Sunstein invite us to enter an alternative world, one that takes our humanness as a given. They show that by knowing how people think, we can design choice environments that make it easier for people to choose what is best for themselves, their families, and their society. Using colorful examples from the most important aspects of life, Thaler and Sunstein demonstrate how thoughtful “choice architecture” can be established to nudge us in beneficial directions without restricting freedom of choice. Nudge offers a unique new take—from neither the left nor the right—on many hot-button issues, for individuals and governments alike. This is one of the most engaging and provocative books to come along in many years.

To listen to an 8-minute interview of Richard Thaler on NPR’s Day to Day, click here.

Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Life, Marketing | 1 Comment »

Taking Distribution Seriously – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 12, 2008

Image by e.schumann on FlickrRobert C. Hockett has recently posted an interesting paper, “Taking Distribution Seriously,” on SSRN. We’ve pasted the abstract below.

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It is common for legal theorists and policy analysts to think and communicate mainly in maximizing terms. What is less common is for them to notice that each time we speak explicitly of socially maximizing one thing, we speak implicitly of distributing another thing and equalizing yet another thing. We also, moreover, effectively define ourselves and our fellow citizens by reference to that which we equalize; for it is in virtue of the latter that our social welfare formulations treat us as “counting” for purposes of socially aggregating and maximizing.

To attend systematically to the inter-translatability of maximization language on the one hand, equalization and identification language on the other, is to “take distribution seriously.” It is to recognize explicitly, and to trace the important normative consequences that stem from, the fact that all law and policy are as distributive and citizen-defining as they are aggregative. It is also to recognize therefore that all law and policy treat us as equals in some respects – respects in terms of which they identify and “count” us as politically relevant – and as non-equals in other respects. Attending explicitly to these “respects” brings transparency about the degrees to which our laws and policies identify, “count,” and treat us as equals in the right respects.

This Article accordingly seeks to lay out with care how to take distribution seriously in legal and policy analysis. It does so by two means, keyed to the principal guises in which distribution is typically implicated in legal and policy analysis: First, by careful attention to the internal structures of the social welfare functions favored by most present-day legal theorists and policy analysts. And second, by systematic reference to what linguists call the “cognitive grammar” of non-formal distributive language, a structure that mirrors the structure of distribution itself. The payoffs include both a workable method by which systematically to test proposed maximization norms for their normative propriety, and an attractive distributive ethic that can serve as an ethically intelligible normative touchstone for legal and policy analysis.

Posted in Abstracts, Legal Theory | Leave a Comment »

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