According to Mathew Crawford (The World Beyond Your Head), economics once held “that we are rational beings who gather all the information pertinent to our situation, calculate the best means to given ends, and then go about optimizing our choices accordingly. The assumption was that we are able to do this because we know what we want, and the calculation will be simple because our interests are not in conflict with one another.”
Behaviorial economists have their doubts. The rational optimizer knows what he wants, and many of us don’t. Besides, “we’re a lot lazier than the rational optimizer view would have it. That is, to make everything a matter for reflection and explicit evaluation goes against the grain of how human beings normally operate.”
Crawford summarizes the “nudge” approach of Cass Sustein, but dismisses it in favor of a more “local, actor-centered” notion of the “jig,” a “a device or procedure that guides a repeated action by constraining the environment in such a way as to make the action go smoothly, the same each time, without his having to think about it.” A short-order cook uses jigs, as does a bartender, spacing up his tools and ingredients so that his work becomes a flow, a dance.
Crawford prefers jigging to “the prospect of being nudged by Cass Sunstein.” Who wouldn’t?
It’s jigs within jigs, jigs all the way down.