Real people have trouble balancing their checkbooks, much less calculating how much they need to save for retirement; they sometimes binge on food, drink, or high-definition televisions. They are more like Homer Simpson than Mr. Spock.
There's a reason why start-ups, especially disruptive start-ups - like Google or Amazon or Uber - are full of young people. That's because young people are not as wedded to the old fashioned ways of doing things.
It's essential that we understand things like the free-rider problem, but we also need to understand that, fortunately, humans are a little nicer than economists give them credit for. Some people actually leave money at roadside fruit stands; some people give money to NPR so we can listen to it.
Traditional economics is based on imaginary creatures sometimes referred to as 'Homo economicus.' I call them Econs for short. Econs are amazingly smart and are free of emotion, distraction or self-control problems. Think Mr. Spock from 'Star Trek.'
The government employs scientists of many varieties in technical capacities, from estimating the environmental toxicity of a chemical to the structural soundness of a bridge. But when it comes to forming policies, these scientists and, especially, behavioral scientists are rarely at the table with the lawyers and the economists.
If there is one thing that most economists agree about in the realm of tax policy, it is that it's best to broaden the base of any tax, all else being equal. That means minimizing the number of deductions and exclusions from taxable income in order to lower marginal rates and reduce distortions.
In the world of traditional economics, it shouldn't matter whether you use an opt-in or opt-out system. So long as the costs of registering as a donor or a nondonor are low, the results should be similar. But many findings of behavioral economics show that tiny disparities in such rules can make a big difference.
I try to teach people to make fewer mistakes. But in designing economic policies, we need to take full account of the fact that people are busy, they're absent minded, they're lazy, and that we should try to make things as easy for them as possible.
Many Americans say they want to be organ donors, but they just don't get around to acting on their intentions. Helping these potential good Samaritans overcome their inertia could prolong thousands of lives a year.
I am all for trying to teach household finance in schools, starting as early as possible. And when it comes to high school, I think learning about compound interest is at least as important as trigonometry or memorizing the names of all 50 state capitals.
Parents want their children to excel, callers to a victims' hot line want help, and sick people want to get well. Offering aids is like providing an alarm clock: it may help people get to an appointment on time, but no one is forcing them to use it.
Claiming that Social Security benefits are safe may sound naive, but my view is actually quite cynical. I believe that as long as the elderly continue to vote in large numbers, no Congress will renege on promised payouts for those already eligible to receive benefits.
Most of us think that we are 'better than average' in most things. We are also 'miscalibrated,' meaning that our sense of the probability of events doesn't line up with reality. When we say we are sure about a certain fact, for example, we may well be right only half the time.