Barack Obama and Neuroeconomics


Behavioral economics and neuroeconomics are closely related fields, rather in the same way that psychology and neuroscience are related. It seems that Democrat presidential hopeful Barack Obama has a behavioral economist on his staff. The New Republic reports on the University of Chicago’s Richard Thaler’s role in the Obama campaign:

As it happens, Thaler is revered by the leading wonks on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Though he has no formal role, Thaler presides as a kind of in-house intellectual guru, consulting regularly with Obama’s top economic adviser, a fellow University of Chicago professor named Austan Goolsbee. “My main role has been to harass Austan, who has an office down the hall from mine, ” Thaler recently told me. “I give him as much grief as possible.” You can find subtle evidence of this influence across numerous Obama proposals. For example, one key behavioral finding is that people often fail to set aside money for retirement even when their employers offer generous 401(k) plans. If, on the other hand, you automatically enroll workers in 401(k)s but allow them to opt out, most stick with it. Obama’s savings plan exploits this so-called “status quo” bias.

As Jonah Lehrer of The Frontal Cortex notes, this is a rather minimal behavioral component, but it’s still encouraging to see some elements of practicality and an understanding of actual human behavior become part of a presidential campaign.

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