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.
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.
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.
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.
Arthur Laffer's idea, that lowering taxes could increase revenues, was logically correct. If tax rates are high enough, then people will go to such lengths to avoid them that cutting taxes can increase revenues. What he was wrong about was in thinking that income tax rates were already so high in the 1970s that cutting them would raise revenues.
In some ways, the finding that financial education doesn't provide long-term payoffs is hardly surprising. After all, how much do you remember from your high school chemistry class? Unless you use chemistry at work, you probably don't recall much about ionic bonding.