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.
Academia does not provide many opportunities for immediate gratification. You work for two years on a project, it takes two more years to get it published, and then you start hoping someone might read it.
The voting public is not very good at attributing credit and blame to presidents. They get too much credit when things go well and too much blame when things go badly. The same applies to coaches, C.E.O.'s, parents, and anyone else in charge.
In the 1940s, economics started getting highly mathematical. It was basically because economists weren't smart enough to write down models of real behavior that they started writing down models of highly rational behavior - and they kind of forgot about humans.
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.
It is true that I am one of the co-authors of 'Nudge,' and I am a behavioral economist, but it does not mean that everything we write about in that book is behavioral economics, nor does it mean that my co-author, the distinguished legal scholar Cass Sunstein, is a behavioral economist.
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.