Sunday, 13 July 2008

Sunday snippets

Some bits from today's Observer etc. First up there's an interesting little bit in Andrew Rawnsley's column this week about the growing influence of behavioural economics:

Both leaders are also under the influence of American behavioural theorists. A fashionable book called Nudge, which contends that laws are less effective at changing people's behaviour than social pressure, has found an eager audience within Cameron's circle. In similar vein is Robert Cialdini's Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. The Social Market Foundation in Britain has made its own contribution, Creatures of Habit? The Art of Behavioural Change, with some practical suggestions about how government can persuade people to stop acting badly and do things which are good for them and society.

What's interesting is that Tories seem to be willing to take these ideas pretty seriously. Look at Danny Finkelstein dropping in Kahneman and Tversky for example, he's also written about Dan Ariely (me too) and, I think, Richard Thaler. I can't think of anyone comparable on the Left who is taking a similar line. I think it would be a big mistake to allow the Right to occupy this territory.

The Observer business section actually has one or two interesting bits in it. For example this piece about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I thought the US system was actually quite a good one, shows you what I know. In the same territory the Rowntree Foundation report mentioned in this piece looks like it might be worth a read. Notably they are realistic that you can't regulate away house price bubbles.

Finally, and not at all related, my copy of Metaphors We Live By turned up yesterday (along with Descartes' Error, which looks fascinating). I'm really looking forward to this, and having had a quick flick and read this morning I've already managed to annoy Mrs Tom with examples of how prevalent metaphors are in day to day speech. Here's a short bit that has relevance to my rather botched post yesterday:

Theories (and arguments) are buildings:

Is that the foundation for your theory. The theory needs more support. We need some more facts or the argument will fall apart. We need to construct a strong argument for that. I haven't figured out yet what the form of the argument will be. Here are some more facts to shore up the theory. We need to buttress the theory with solid arguments. The theory will stand or fall on the strength of that argument. The argument collapsed. They exploded his latest theory. We will show his theory to be without foundation. So far we have put together only the framework of the theory.

The next section on 'ideas as food' is great too - 'half-baked' ideas, 'raw' facts, propositions that are hard to 'swallow', 'meaty' concepts, information being 'spoon-fed' etc. Great stuff.

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