Nudged into Lockdown?


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Table of Contents

Contents: 1. Prologue 2. Gut feelings: biases, heuristics and Covid-19 3. Pathogens and probabilities 4. Should we trust people to do the right thing? 5. Politics, pathogens and party lines 6. Irrational exuberance in the midst of Covid-19 7. Epilogue Bibliography Index

About the Author

Ananish Chaudhuri, Professor of Experimental Economics, University of Auckland, New Zealand


‘If you are looking for an engaging treatment by an economist of what optimal pandemic policy response should look like, and what common pitfalls to avoid, that brings to bear insights from epidemiology, economics, and behavioural economics, then I would highly recommend Nudged into Lockdown. Consider this your nudge.’
*Jeremy Clark, Journal of Economic Psychology*

‘Nudged into Lockdown? forcefully addresses an important point that has too often gone missing in applied work on nudging and choice architecture: namely, that policy makers and experts, too, make systematic errors when interpreting data and may succumb to biased assessments of risk and uncertainty themselves. The book provides durable insights into how both orthodox benefit-cost analysis and key findings from the behavioural sciences – regarding trust, autonomy and pro-social adaptative responses in decentralised social systems – were sometimes overlooked or underutilised by those who designed covid-response policies.’
*Nathan Berg, Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics*

‘In responding to the novel coronavirus pandemic, most governments abandoned the existing scientific and policy consensus and mimicked one another to embrace lockdowns of varying stringency. Remarkably, hardly any seemed to produce cost–benefit analysis. Unremarkably, the cost–benefit balance varied between rich and poor countries. In this rigorous, multi-disciplinary examination, written in clearly accessible language, Ananish Chaudhuri explores the reasons for the herd-like behaviour by governments and for the public compliance with their edicts. A must-read for understanding what really happened with Covid-19 and why, and for being better prepared for the inevitable next pandemic.’
*Ramesh Thakur, Director of the Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (CNND), Crawford School, The Australian National University, Vice Rector and Senior Vice Rector of the United Nations University and Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations 1998–2007*

‘This book is at once scholarly and readily accessible to all. The case Chaudhuri makes is not for any specific policy response, but rather for rational and fully informed decisions – for epidemiology over ideology. If the careful logic and vivid illustrations here pry open enough minds, we will be far better prepared for the next great public health crisis than we were for Covid-19.’
*David L. Katz, MD, MPH President, True Health Initiative and Founding Director, Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, Yale University, US, 1998–2019*

‘Ananish Chaudhuri lays out the many irrationalities involved in the support for lockdowns in New Zealand and elsewhere: an inability to judge small probabilities, the problems with gut feelings, and many ex-post justification biases. Chaudhuri makes the argument carefully and yet manages to retain great humanism and compassion. A delight to read.’
*Paul Frijters, Professor in Wellbeing Economics, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK and co-author of An Economic Theory of Greed, Love, Groups, and Networks*

‘In response to the Covid pandemic, many countries adopted containment policies that did not condition on people’s health status or demographic characteristics. This timely and insightful book addresses the questions of what considerations led to those policies and whether those policies were well-informed. The book begins from the premise that the design of effective policy cannot be based solely on the insights of classic epidemiology models. The reason is both simple and sensible: those models don’t take into account behavioral responses of people to policies like containment. The author’s analysis is multidisciplinary in nature, blending economics, psychology, political science and epidemiology. The result is a rich and informative analysis. I highly recommend this well-written and timely book.’
*Martin Eichenbaum, Charles Moskos Professor of Economics and Co-Director, Center for International Macroeconomics, Northwestern University, US*

‘This book is a very timely one for those, like me, who believe the democratic world’s lockdown response to the Covid virus will go down as the worst public policy response of the last few centuries. It is sceptical. It is interesting. It is Great Barrington over Chief Medical Officer. There is more to living and the good life than fear of dying of Covid. All the politicians who focused on that matrix, and ignored other causes of death as well as all the benefits of living in a free society, and more, should have to read this book.’
*James Allan, Garrick Professor in Law, TC Beirne School of Law, University of Queensland, Australia*

‘In this book Ananish Chaudhuri achieves the impossible – he offers an easy-to-read book that delivers profound insights about our behavior which applies not just to pandemics, but to many other recurrent situations in our daily lives! A must-read for anyone that wants to make better decisions.’
*Sudipta Sarangi, Professor and Chair, Department of Economics, Virginia Tech, US, Co-Editor, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization and author of The Economics of Small Things*

‘Careful comparison of costs and benefits is usually considered a hallmark of wise decision-making. Yet in 2020 many governments abandoned this standard as they tried to minimize deaths from Covid-19 regardless of cost. Traditional cost–benefit arguments were rebuked, by politicians who by nature rarely admit error, but also by ordinary folk affronted that someone would want to “kill granny”. This book draws insights from experimental economics, political science and psychology to show how various biases in decision-making processes contributed to this situation. Fifty years ago, Essence of Decision led a generation of scholars to examine models of government decision-making. Hopefully Ananish Chaudhuri’s lively book has a similar impact, for scholars, students and members of the public concerned about the retreat from rationality that is revealed by policy choices and public attitudes in the Covid-19 era.’
*John Gibson, Professor of Economics, University of Waikato, New Zealand, Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and Distinguished Fellow of the New Zealand Association of Economists*

‘This is an excellent book that nicely discusses cutting-edge applications in behavioural economics pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is thought-provoking and contains pioneering approaches that broaden the scope of behavioural research. Excellent writing style, making the content of the book accessible to a broad audience. Highly recommended!’
*Michalis Drouvelis, Professor of Economics, University of Birmingham, UK and Co-ordinating Editor, Theory and Decision*

‘In New Zealand now it is hard to remember the shock of lockdown as a pandemic response. So much has happened. The virus has been kept at bay, so far. The predicted economic disaster has not happened – yet. Massive financial relief for businesses forcibly suspended and jobs at risk was followed by a rapid recovery when shops reopened. But Ananish Chaudhuri is by no means alone in thinking the country could pay a high and lingering price for its unprecedented lockdown, and that these costs, especially the human costs, should have been weighed against the risks the virus posed. His book uses fascinating behavioral studies of economic decision making and the psychology of popular risk assessment to question the merits of measures that New Zealand’s Government took and New Zealanders overwhelmingly accepted. They should read this book and wonder if these were questions they should have asked.’
*John Roughan, Political Columnist, New Zealand Herald*

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