"Misbehaving" by Richard H. Thaler (2015)
"The premise of the article, and later the book, is that in our increasingly complicated world people cannot be expected to have the expertise to make anything close to optimal decisions in all the domains in which they are forced to choose. But we all enjoy having the right to choose for ourselves, even if we sometimes make mistakes. Are there ways to make it easier for people to make what they will deem to be good decisions, both before and after the fact, without explicitly forcing anyone to do anything?"
Richard H. Thaler is a Nobel Prize-winning Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago. He is one of the founders of Behavioral Economics, a discipline which seeks to integrate findings from Psychology into economic theory. If his name sounds familiar, it's because he appeared in the movie The Big Short. He's the one explaining the "hot hand fallacy" and synthetic CDOs next to Selena Gomez at the dice table.
In Misbehaving he outlines the development of Behavioral Economics from the 1970s to the the present day, and also details some of the discoveries in the field. In one sense the book could be viewed as his autobiography, with his life forming a backdrop for the experiments he describes. In another sense the book could be viewed as an apologia for this relatively new discipline, providing arguments in favor of a more "human-centric" approach to economics.
One thing that worried me from the outet was the author's praise for Daniel Kahneman, whose Thinking, Fast and Slow bored me to tears. I'm not a big fan of Psychology in the best of times, and the mentions of Kahneman's book had me thinking that Misbehaving was going to be more of the same.
I'm glad to say that this isn't the case, and even though much of what Richard Thaler lays out in Misbehaving seemed rather obvious to me, his humorous approach got me through the more involved chapters of the book. This isn't to say I loved it, but I did have a much tougher time with Thinking, Fast and Slow.
I should also state that the "obviousness" of Thaler's arguments might be due to exposure to other recent authors exploring similar material. Steven Pinker (another author I'm not fond of) comes to mind, as does the book The Anatomy of Violence, reviewed here last year. It might seem strange for someone who professes a dislike for Psychology to have read so many books by psychologists, but I think this is more a reflection of the publishing industry than my personal taste. I read what I can get, and books by psychologists are always on offer.
But going back to Misbehaving, my thoughts? I think the author spends way too much time on interdepartmental politics and his career up to 2015. Very few people are going to care about the personalities described in this book, especially considering the fact that they are/were Professors of Economics, and several of them are now dead. As for the concept of Behavioral Economics, it seems like a no-brainer to me. People aren't "rational" in the classical economics sense of the word, and we're always making imperfect choices based on incomplete information. Just look at the Internet, and think of how much social media sites and deteriorating news outlets influence our lives.
For those with NO knowledge of Behavioral Economics I would recommend this book. I would encourage those who are acquainted with it to pass Misbehaving by.
"Fear: Trump in the White House" by Bob Woodward (2018)
"Political Order and Political Decay" by Francis Fukuyama (2015)
"What Money Can't Buy" by Michael Sandel (2012)
"The Anatomy of Violence" by Adrian Raine (2013)