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review 2019-05-22 12:11
Power of Fifty Bits
The Power of Fifty Bits: The New Science of Turning Good Intentions into Positive Results - Qarie Marshall,Bob Nease

The first line of this book's blurb encapsulates Bob Nease's premise fairly well: 


Of the ten million bits of information our brains process each second, only fifty bits are devoted to conscious thought. Because our brains are wired to be inattentive, we often choose without thinking, acting against our own interests—what we truly want. 


What follows is a discussion of strategies to overcome the "inattention and inertia" that human brains tend to default to, in order to make the decisions that better align with people's good intentions.  Examples include refilling prescriptions on time, following a fitness regime, and investing money for retirement.


Readers who are already familiar with Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow and Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's Nudge will not find much that is new here.  What Nease calls "inattention and inertia" fits into Kahneman's "System One," or "fast thinking," and what Nease repeatedly refers to as "Fifty-Bit Design" (ick!) aligns with Thaler and Sunstein's more elegant "choice architecture."


Nonetheless, I think this is a good read for anyone interested in behavioral economics, especially when it comes to developing strategies for applying its concepts to simple things like word selection when presenting options to people.

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review 2018-12-08 02:15
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Audio) - Richard H. Thaler,Cass R. Sunstein,Sean Pratt



3.5 stars on Booklikes (this rounds down to 3 stars on Goodreads).


Continuing my obsession with behavioral economics.  Having read The Undoing Project and Thinking, Fast and Slow, I was familiar with many of the concepts and examples discussed in Nudge, but still, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein had a somewhat different emphasis (plus I enjoyed their humor).  I really appreciated their concept of "choice architecture," and I think they have given me much to consider when it comes to applying their "nudge" ideas to life and work (I am in continuing medical education).


The edition I listened to (audio) is not their updated edition, and I am interested to discover what they have added (or changed).  One thing that struck me is how dated their section on same-sex marriage is, now that marriage equality is the law of the land.  I feel as though what actually happened is much more satisfying than any of their recommendations in that part of the book.


Some of their policy-oriented chapters struck me as a little dry, but mostly, I found their insights and ideas salient and applicable.  I believe we can all benefit from becoming choice architects.

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review 2018-10-30 23:51
Thinking, Fast & Slow
Thinking, Fast and Slow (Audio) - Patrick Egan,Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman uses the metaphor of "System 1" and "System 2," coexisting "characters" in our brains responsible for the two types of thinking the book's title alludes to.


* System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.


* System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations.  The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.


System 1 is in charge of our brains most of the time, making quick, intuitive judgments.  System 1 relies heavily on our biases, without our necessarily being aware that this occurs.  When confronted with a complex question that needs the resources of System 2, System 1 is liable to make a quick substitution, answering a simple, replacement question instead.


System 1 can serve us well, except when it doesn't.  It's a feature that can sometimes be a bug, and this book provides a series of frameworks that can help identify when it's useful to hack our systems and get the most out of the two systems.


As I mentioned in my review for The Undoing Project, I've become fascinated by behavioral economics and the thinkers whose work has shaped it.  I will say that this is very much a system 2 book.  It should be read carefully, and I hate to say it, but I realized by listening to this, that audiobooks lend themselves more to system 1.  The upshot is I often found myself rewinding to listen to something I realized my brain had only partially taken in (because it decided to go off on a side trip).  I also checked out the hardcover edition from my library, and I intend to review it.


The value of this book is understanding how to make better decisions and create frameworks that also help others to do so.

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review 2016-03-15 16:53
Who Gets What — and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design
Who Gets What — and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design - Alvin E. Roth

[Preface/Warning: This is a long-ago unfinished review, but, in light of Lloyd Shapley's recent death, I figure it's time for me to just let it fly free as is.]


And let the review begin:

Well guys, I think I've discovered a real up and comer in the field of behavioral economics. Wait— what's that? He already won the Nobel Prize in Economics?!? Ok, so maybe I'm not the first to catch on to the brilliance of Alvin E. Roth (damn those Swedes for always being one step ahead of me).


However, the greatness of Who Gets What — and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design, Roth's first foray into “popular science” writing, isn't all about sheer intellectual horsepower. Roth (below, L) takes something complex, the economics of matching markets (markets in which price isn't the only determinant of who gets what”), and manages to make the ideas accessible without losing nuance or oversimplifying.*

Roth and Shapley by Jac Depczyk

Roth's fellow laureate, Lloyd Shapley (above, R), co-wrote a seminal paper on similar tricky transactions (those involving “indivisible” goods, without the use of money) in a 1974 issue of the Journal of Mathematical Economics with Herbert Scarf. The Scarf Shapley paper established a set of cyclical trades called “top trading cycles” in which all parties are ideally matched. I'm sure the paper is totally brilliant, but before you jump up to find a copy, just remember that, for most of us, it's…well, I'll let GOB tell you. 


GOB Half in English half in squiggly

So what's all the fuss about market design?

Markets are everywhere, and the role of market design is to “helps solve problems that existing marketplaces haven’t been able to solve naturally.” 


Kidney Swapping Fun

Roth, being the clever guy he is, starts out with a “market” in which proper matches are a matter of life and death— kidney transplants. When tasked with creating a sort of “clearinghouse” for kidney exchanges (now known as the New England Program for Kidney Exchange or NEPKE), there were several salient factors that Roth and co. had to take into account:

1. Kidneys are “indivisible goods” (you can't just give four people quarter-kidneys and tell them to go on their merry ways)

2. At least in the U.S., money can't be involved (buying kidneys falls into the category known as “repugnant transactions”)

3. There are “paired” patients and donors (people willing to donate a kidney for a relative, or friend, but whose kidneys weren't biological matches for said person)

4. Whenever humans (donors, recipients, doctors, hospital administrators) are involved, there's the possibility of “gaming the system”

kidney exchange chain

Avoiding a level of detail that I will, undoubtedly, misconstrue, I'll just tell you that Roth adeptly describes the intricacy of creating kidney swap

“‘top trading cycles,’ with the property that no group of patients and donors could go off on their own and find a cycle of trades that they liked better.”

Even if kidneys are the last thing on your mind, the challenges overcome in order to make the market: thick (by attracting lots of buyers and sellers), quick (time is of the essence, and congestion is to be avoided), and safe/secure are fairly universal.  


Sounds easy enough…

Ok, let's try this new knowledge on for size. Perhaps in a case that's not so far to one side of the commodities—matching market spectrum. 

Archer How Hard Could It Be

You've got your product (say, a metric tonne of it, meaning 1,000 kilos), which means you're looking for someone who wants what you have (supply, demand, nothing fancy here). 


What problems could a marketplace possibly have? Well, kind of a lot. In order for things to run smoothly, you have to have the right amounts of: thickness (players at the table), speed, security, and simplicity.


Humans, the unpredictable sneaky lot of us, pose a wide array of challenges to marketplaces and market designers. For one, there's the trust factor (security). Even with kidney swapping, they had to deal with scheduling “simultaneous” surgeries, for fear that, once a donor's patient partner had received a kidney, the donor might later renege on the offer. Though this fear turned out to be pretty unwarranted, the point is that you can't just take people at their word (or palabra, if you will). 


Archer palabra oc


Speaking of trust, how does one know that what one is buying is legit? Parties on either side of a transaction need to have “enough information in order to make an optimal decision.

With “commodities” this often takes place by way of quality control.  In fact, without quality control (think grading of flour, or maple syrup) commodities markets would have to be "matching markets," which would be highly inefficient.



So, yeah. This review isn't done. There are so many more Archer gifs, and so many more ideas to communicate. But, seriously, just read the book…


* I'm sure my review with be chock full of oversimplifications, but, then again, I'm no Nobel Laureate

† For his purposes, Roth defines these as “transactions that some people want to engage in and that are objected to by people who may not themselves experience any direct harm.”

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text 2014-11-30 17:44
How Markets Fail progress update: I've read 60%.
How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities - John Cassidy

I'm not sure if I should be reassured or terrified by the notion that a nineteenth century journalist could describe the "madness of crowds" in a way that captures modern society so well... 


Here's to you Charles Mackay for capturing the irascible societal trifecta of "National Delusions", "Peculiar Follies", and "Philosophical Delusions."

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