The Limits Of Obama’s Favorite Economic Theory

Economic theories don’t usually get their own executive orders. But last summer, President Barack Obama changed that.

In September, the president issued an order, titled “Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People,” that essentially requires the federal government to use what Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor, and Richard Thaler, a University of Chicago economics professor, call “nudges.” What’s a nudge? Basically, it’s a decision you make about the way choices are presented. In what order do you list someone’s options? How do you describe each one? If you are asking someone to fill out a form, how long is it? How easy is it to understand? Where do you get it and where do you turn it in? And, crucially, what do you make the default option? Is it “click here to subscribe,” or “click here to unsubscribe”? Opt-in or opt-out?

Some policymakers are strongly pro-nudge because they can be a cheap, simple and effective way to steer people in a particular direction, and help them make better choices — or, anyway, what the policymakers believe to be better choices. Other people are uncomfortable with nudges, objecting to the whole idea of officials trying to exert a subtle influence in the name of advancing a policy agenda. But there’s no such thing as no nudges: As soon as you try to present someone with options, you have to communicate those options somehow. And every possible method carries a nudge of some kind.

Obama has faith in the power of nudges. But how far do they actually get you? In a new paper, John Campbell, a professor of economics at Harvard, argues that sometimes a nudge is not enough. In many cases, strong, explicit regulation — especially when it comes to consumer finance — —> Read More

Not A Morning Person? Blame Your DNA.

If you just can’t ever seem to get up early for that morning workout, don’t be too hard on yourself. New research suggests that being an early riser is in some people’s DNA — and not in others’.

The study, which was published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, isolated 15 areas in the human genome that are associated with the tendency toward or against “morningness.”

“In this study we set out to discover more about an individual’s preference toward early rising, and were able to identify the genetic associations with ‘morningness’ as well as ties to lifestyle patterns and other traits,” Dr. Youna Hu, a scientist at 23andMe and lead author of the paper, said in a statement.

In one of the largest genetic studies of its type, researchers from San Jose State University and personal genetic company 23andMe used data on more than 89,000 adults collected by 23andMe. For the first time, they drew a link between possessing certain genes and self-reports of being a “morning person.”

Seven of the 15 genes linked with morningness were associated with circadian rhythms, the body’s 24-hour cycle of rest and activity, which follow daily cycles of dark and light. Circadian rhythms dictate a number of physical, psychological and behavioral changes that occur throughout the day, which suggests that they also play an important role in a preference for mornings or evenings.

The results of the study also honed in on some common traits that tend to overlap with being a morning person. For instance, women and adults over the age of 60 were more likely to be morning people.

Being a morning person also seemed to come with certain health benefits. Morning people were significantly less likely to suffer from insomnia —> Read More

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