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Libertarian Paternalism: Eat Well, Retire Rich, and Feel the Freedom
Here's how the government improves your life without you knowing it.
Cass Sunstein is an legal scholar, known for his work in the fields of constitutional law, administrative law, environmental law, and law and behavioral economics, who was the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration. For 27 years, Sunstein taught at the University of Chicago Law School, where he continues to teach as the Harry Kalven Visiting Professor. Sunstein is currently Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.
Cass Sunstein: A number of years ago Richard Thaler, a terrific economist, and I were talking about public policy and also about human behavior. And the idea developed that you can have a form of paternalism that preserves freedom of choice. So, insist first and foremost on people being able to go their own way if they want, but it acknowledges that some of us maybe don’t know how to get where we want to go, or that some of us may be focused on today and not next year, or that some of us might be unrealistically optimistic or some of us might not know a whole lot, for example, about health insurance or savings plans or about how to manage our credit card. So the idea developed, which wouldn’t have sold any books but we use it anyway, called libertarian paternalism, and we change that to a simpler form, “nudge”, and the idea behind libertarian paternalism or nudge is that you have things that are like a GPS device. So a GPS device is a form of libertarian paternalism. If you don’t like the instructions you’re getting from the little voice that’s coming in your car, you can say, “I want the scenic route,” or, “I prefer a direction which is more familiar to me and I know better than you do given what I care about.” But it’s steering you in a direction which it has information suggesting is the best way to get you where you want to go.
Now, we can all use a GPS device in a lot of places and this is the idea of a libertarian paternalism. So if you get a credit card bill and it has some information about what happens if you don’t pay the full amount, meaning you’re going to start getting charged interest, or if it has information that tells you something about the cost of late fees, that is like a GPS device in the sense that it doesn’t force you to do anything, but it tells you a little bit about how to get to what is probably your preferred destination, which is saving money.
You might have also a warning on a cigarette package or a warning on medicines and those things are liberty preserving because you can do whatever you want really, but it is steering you like a GPS device in one direction rather than another. Some of the most powerful forms of libertarian paternalism, which in a way are changing the world, are using automatic enrollment in something, so that if people don’t want the thing they have to opt out rather than saying opt in if you do want to thing.
And one that’s really taken off all over the world is automatic enrollment in savings plans. The idea is that once you are working in many places you’re just in a savings plan. If you don’t want to be you can opt out, but the result of automatic enrollment has been to increase—massively—participation rates in savings plans while preserving freedom of choice and that’s going to mean that people all over the world are going to have more comfortable retirements.
Now the idea of more comfortable retirements is important, it may not be the sort of thing that gets people’s juices flowing, but when I worked in the White House between 2009 and 2012 we thought a lot about this, about things that could help people while preserving their freedom of choice. And one little example does get at least my juices flowing, which is there’s a program to allow poor kids to have free school lunches and breakfast, and it’s something that isn’t politically inflamed. Everyone thinks if you’re below a certain threshold of poverty you should get a nutritious meal at school—and it’s free, you get it. But a lot of kids haven’t signed up, maybe because the parents are scared if they get some form from the government, maybe because the form from the government is kind of daunting and complicated, maybe because the parents are busy and focused on other things rather than some bureaucratic note from the Department of Agriculture or the local school.
So what we did was basically just shifted the default. If the locality knows that you’re eligible for the meal, you are getting the meal. If you don’t want to be in the program you can opt out, but you’re automatically in. And at last count that means that about 11 million kids in the United States are getting school meals for free, to which they’re entitled, and 11 million is a statistic, but if you think of some small fraction of those kids ages 6/7/8/9 and imagine them having something that’s going to produce no hunger plus nutrition, that’s a small intervention that is having a real impact.
So one of the exciting things about the last ten years is that the interest in libertarian paternalism or nudging has been intense and strong, and it has cut across partisan lines. So when I worked in the White House there were a number of things I worked on that Democrats liked and Republicans not so much—climate change regulation, Republicans were not that excited about it, President Trump not so excited about it, and Democrats were approving.
But libertarian paternalism, we didn’t use the name, but things like information disclosure about credit cards, information disclosure about mortgages, automatic enrollment in savings plans, simplification of forms, which is a way of preserving liberty but ensuring that people aren’t just drowning in complexity, which prevents them from taking advantage of something, all of these things were able to attract bipartisan enthusiasm.
So Americans don’t like their freedom being intruded on. They don’t like the idea of public officials saying, “We know better than you do,” but so long as their freedom to go their own way is maintained they are good with things like warnings, reminders, information, switching the default role.
You could imagine some examples of those that would get people’s hackles up, but generally—and this is the kind of the excitement, I think, of the era we’re in—these ideas, informed by behavioral science for decades of testing, are changing people’s lives, saving in some cases literally billions of dollars, saving in other cases significant number of lives per year, these are things that don’t really get the salutary American antipathy to mandates from self-appointed in some cases elites, and in other cases an elected elite.
The opposition to mandates does not apply to libertarian paternalism, at least so long as the word libertarian doesn’t merely have too many syllables to be kind of the friendliest word, but at least so long as it really means freedom then we’re doing something that’s compatible with American culture.
One of the best policies in America might just have the worst name: libertarian paternalism. Fortunately it's better known as 'nudge theory', and it has saved billions of dollars, huge numbers of lives, and subtly increased the nation's standard of living. How does it do all that? Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein explains that libertarian paternalism uses tested behavioral science to present people with choices that could improve their lives. It's why your credit card statement has clear information about how to avoid interest charges, it's why savings plans are opt-out rather than opt-in, and it's why 11 million U.S. kids below the poverty line get free school meals without even having to ask. These nudges and automatic enrollments give Americans all the help, with none of the treading on me (hence the 'libertarian' paternalism). They are, as Sunstein explains, liberty preserving and perhaps best of all, considering the current political climate, nudge theory is met with bipartisan enthusiasm. Cass Sunstein’s research is cited in The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals about Our Power to Change Others byTali Sharot.
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Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.
A time for sleep<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="Mt29uUqI" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="931343dee3c02121445e51e94ba22446"> <div id="botr_Mt29uUqI_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Mt29uUqI-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/Mt29uUqI-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Mt29uUqI-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Previous studies had already suggested a link between persistent nightmares in childhood and psychosis and borderline personality disorder (BPD) by adolescence, but researchers at the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology wanted to see if a similar connection existed between these mental disorders and other childhood behavioral sleep problems.</p><p>To do this, they scoured data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a longitudinal cohort study that followed approximately 14,000 children born in Avon, England, in the early 1990s. The study followed the children for more than 13 years. During that time, mothers filled out questionnaires asking about the children's lives. Factors looked at included housing, parenting, nutrition, physical health, mental wellbeing, environmental exposures, and so on. </p><p>The cohort study inquired about sleep routines, sleep duration, and awakening frequency when the children were 6, 18, and 30 months old, and then again at 3.5, 4.8, and 5.8 years. It also assessed mental health in adolescence using semi-structured interviews, such as the Psychosis-Like Symptom Interview.</p><p>"We know that adolescence is a key developmental period to study the onset of many mental disorders, including psychosis or BPD. This is because of particular brain and hormonal changes which occur at this stage," <a href="https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/psychology/marwaha-steven.aspx" target="_blank">Steven Marwaha</a>, professor of psychiatry at Birmingham and senior author on the study, <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200701125431.htm" target="_blank">said in a release</a>. "Sleep may be one of the most important underlying factors—and it's one that we can influence with effective, early interventions, so it's important that we understand these links."</p><p>After compiling the data, the researchers discovered an association between children with irregular sleeping patterns and teenagers with <a href="https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/psychosis/about-psychosis/" target="_blank">psychotic experiences</a>—that is, episodes when the person perceives reality differently than those around them. Even when depression at 10 years old was considered as a mediating factor, their findings still suggested "a specific pathway between these childhood sleep problems and adolescent psychotic experiences." </p><p>Toddlers with shorter nighttime sleep duration and late bedtimes were likewise associated with a <a href="https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml" target="_blank">borderline personality disorder</a>—a disorder marked by a pattern of varying moods, self-images, and behaviors—in their teenage years. Depression at age 10 did not mediate this particular association, suggesting a separate and more specific pathway. </p>
A more restful tomorrow<p>While the sample size was large and mental health was assessed with a validated interview, there nevertheless remain limitations to this data. For starters, sleep habits were based on mothers' reports. Because they came from memory, versus a more direct observation method such as actigraphy, these data may be prone to imperfect recollection and reporting error. There are also many confounders that could be secretly nudging the results, such as family conditions, prenatal medicines, and a host of environmental factors. Finally, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6024884/#:~:text=Sleep%20difficulties%20in%20youth%20with,fear%20of%20dark%20%5B13%5D." target="_blank">the relationship between sleep problems and mental disorders</a> is both complex and two-way.</p><p>As such, the study shows an association between poor childhood sleep later mental disorders but does not prove a causal link. Parents need not worry that a string of nightmares or the eternal struggle settle into bed will be the first ingredients in a witches' brew of debilitating mental disorders. The goal of the study, the researchers point out, is not to create undue worry but improve our ability to recognize the signs of at-risk children and deliver necessary interventions earlier.</p><p>"The results of this study could have important implications for helping practitioners identify children who might be at higher risk for psychotic experiences or BPD symptoms in adolescence, and potentially lead to the design of more effectively targeted sleep or psychological interventions to prevent the onset or attenuate these mental disorders," Isabel Morales-Muñoz, the study's lead researcher, <a href="https://www.healio.com/news/psychiatry/20200702/childhood-sleep-problems-linked-to-adolescent-psychosis-borderline-personality-disorder#:~:text=Sleep%20problems%20during%20early%20childhood,study%20published%20in%20JAMA%20Psychiatry." target="_blank">told Healio Psychiatry</a><u>.</u></p><p>If a parent reading this is worried that their child's sleep patterns are deleterious, the take away should not be despair over an unyielding fate. It should be to seek professional help as soon as possible to begin improving sleep duration and quality. Even if you aren't worried, it's worth remembering that childhood experiences lay the foundation for a lifetime of salubrious sleeping habits. It's so much more than beauty rest.</p>
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.