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.
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.
The ability of businesses to monitor our behavior is already a fact of life, and it isn't going away. Of course we must protect our privacy rights. But if we're smart, we'll also use the data that is being collected to improve our own lives.
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.
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.
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.