Friday, July 10, 2009

Compared to your neighbors

This is really important so please think hard. What would you do if you got an insert in your electricity bill praising you for using 10% less electricity than your neighbors? What if it criticized you for using 10% more? In Sacramento, it decreased total electricity use by 2%. This sounds small (so it means it doesn’t really impact peoples’ lifestyle), but in terms of cost for the utility (not having to build more power plants) and reducing global climate change, the impact can be huge.

Soon, people in California, Washington, Minnesota, Illinois, and New York will be getting these notices. It’s Behavioral Economics in action. Then the next step is to apply this to your water bill. And then . . . . well, I don’t know what comes after that. But this is the basic idea of Sunstein and Thaler’s concept of paternalistic libertarianism. Don’t force people to do things, just give them information that helps them make the right decision and then create a process that makes the right decision easy (like making a max donation to your 401(k) the default option and then allowing people who want to to reduce it, instead of the opposite which we have now).

How much would you improve about your life if it were easier? And if your neighbors were informed? And if you got community recognition from them for doing the right thing? I wonder what else we can change about our society . . . . .