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Assorted links

1) Nudging rules for charities.
2) Exercise meets commerce.
3) Just buy this one – a site that radically simplifies shopping (and requires a lot of trust in its consumer ratings). Hat tip: Rory Sutherland.
4) Washington State posts surgical infection rates at all state hospitals online. Hat tip: Maria Kovell.
5) Electronic prescriptions lead to higher non-adherence? Strange. Hat tip: Gilad Buchman.
6) A version of RECAP for bank loan fees in India. Hat tip: Mostly Economics.
7) What’s the secret to marketing the McRib? Artificial scarcity.

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says Alan Siegel, who has created a simple, single page consumer credit agreement. (Hat tip: Peter Novosel)

The AIGA Design for Democracy takes on credit card statement design too, drawing from nutrition labels. (Hat tip: Kare Anderson)

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The Atlantic’s Josh Green says the new health care bill includes a favorite transparency nudge first used with the 1985 Toxic Release Inventory, requiring the measurement of pollution.

There’s a provision in the new health care law that strikes me as intriguingly similar to the (Toxic Release Inventory), and that’s the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which establishes that doctors must reveal payments from drug companies. We already know, primarily from a series of articles in the New England Journal of Medicine, that this troubling practice has been going on for some time. Someday soon, we’ll know how widespread it is.

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Type “OIRA dashboard” into Google. The first hit?, a new web site that demystifies the opaque subject of rules and regulation in Washington by enabling people to track their progress throughout a review process.

The site’s launch coincides with Nudge co-author Cass Sunstein’s first public remarks since taking over the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the office in charge of reviewing, developing, and overseeing regulations across the federal government. Speaking at an American University law school conference, Sunstein emphasized that OIRA’s goal is to create regulatory policy for Humans, not Econs; “homo sapiens rather than homo economicus,” he explained.

As an example, he cited a set of recently released rules intended to discourage airlines from pulling away from the gate and sitting near a runway, essentially trapping people on planes for unknown periods of time.

The basic idea is if you’re flying domestically, and you can’t be kept on the tarmac for more than three hours, and you get food and water and medical care if you need it within two hours. That rule is accompanied by an extremely disciplined analysis of its cost and benefits. If we’re imposing financial burdens on airlines, we want to catalog them as best we can, and make sure the benefits justify the action.

You can listen to Sunstein’s remarks here.

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As part of a pledge to democratize data, the White House recently ordered every department to post at least three sets of never-before-disclosed “high-value” data. Everything released will be available on

Open government groups are supportive.

“There’s recognition that public equals online,” said Ellen Miller, executive director at Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit group focusing on the use of technology for greater government transparency.

Miller said the effort represents “a sea change in government’s attitude,” with newfound support for the idea that government data belongs in the hands of citizens instead of locked away in the basement of a federal agency.

Full story here.


The financial implosion has brought new calls for transparency by businesses and investment funds. The federal stimulus has brought similar calls to track projects and spending openly. The concept of transparency is popular on the left and the right. Who can be against giving taxpayers or shareholders more information? And when the alternative is heavy-handed regulation or opacity, transparency looks like a superior alternative.

What is now clear, though, is that 20th century notions of transparency, defined basically as providing more information, is unlikely to help governments and citizens understand what’s going on in an increasingly complex world. Besides, companies have been spitting out quarterly reports, earnings statements and calls, and accounting records for years, decades in some cases.

Continue reading the post here.

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In financial markets, where evidence of irrationality has been abundant lately, (Thaler) says he would increase regulations, but very carefully. There’s no evidence, (Thaler) said, that regulators could actually determine appropriate leverage for specific investments, for example, and “heavy-handed regulation” could shut down financial markets and weaken the economy further.

“The trick is to try and figure out a way of forcing these firms to disclose more of what they’re doing without giving away so much that they can no longer make a living,” he said. Such information would help individuals decide whether to invest in the funds, and would help regulators assess overall risk imposed on the financial system and the economy. In addition, he said, disclosure itself often has a salutary effect on behavior because people tend to be mindful of the opinions of others.

Thaler calls Sunstein the “Nudger in Chief.” Read the full piece in the New York Times.

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When it comes to making government accessible to the public, California is showing itself to be among the leaders in the U.S. First there was Ready Return, and now along comes the equally innovative, although less creatively named, School Finder. The online tool allows people to search and compare up to three neighborhood schools along the dimensions of academic performance, graduation and dropout rates, student-teacher ratios, per-student-spending, and course offerings. Information from as many as three schools can be compared side by side.

Compiling all of this data into one site in impressive, although not unique. The U.S. government’s Medicare site features a tool for comparing hospitals that features a surfeit of detail, right down to survey results about whether doctors and nurses “communicated well” with patients. What makes School Finder stand out is its ease-of-use, which may not come as a huge surprise since the state partnered with Google and Microsoft. Users will instantly recognized the Google Earth satellite photos, which are supplemented with Microsoft GIS technology, to help time-pressed, keyboard-averse users easily find and compare schools with the click of a mouse.

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At the Nudge blog, transparent governments that hold a running two-way dialogue with their citizenry are considered better governments. New York Law School professor and guest blogger Beth Simone Noveck takes up transparency and participation in this post about a creative program that opens up the patent process to the American people and asks for their input. Noveck created the idea, called Peer-to-Patent (the NYLS web site about the project is here), which in its first year has already changed how patents are reviewed and approved by bringing new voices and new knowledge into the process.

At New York Law School, Noveck teaches intellectual property, innovation, electronic democracy, and constitutional law. She is also the McClatchy Visiting Associate Professor of Communication at Stanford University. Brookings Press will publish her book, Wiki Government: How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger, and Citizens More Powerful, next year.

Patents by the people

By Beth Simone Noveck

A year ago this month, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, in cooperation with New York Law School and a network of corporate and academic reformers, began a first-of-its-kind experiment in participatory democracy. Designed to capitalize on the expertise and knowledge of the American people, the Peer-to-Patent pilot was implemented to connect the Patent Office to an open network of scientific and technical experts to assist with the examination of pending patent applications in the hi-tech industry.

Continue reading Noveck’s post here.

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