Nudge

Nudge

Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein

we propose a very mild form of government regulation, a species of libertarian paternalism that we call RECAP: Record, Evaluate, and Compare Alternative Prices. Here is how RECAP would work in the cell phone market. The government would not regulate how much issuers could charge for services, but it would regulate their disclosure practices. The central goal would be to inform customers of every kind of fee that currently exists. This would not be done by printing a long unintelligible document in fine print. Instead, issuers would be required to make public their fee schedule in a spread-sheetlike format that would include all relevant formulas. Suppose you are in Toronto and your cell phone rings. How much is it going to cost you to answer it? What if you download some email? All these prices would be embedded in the formulas. This is the price disclosure part of the regulation. The usage disclosure requirement would be that once a year, issuers would have to send their customers a complete listing of all the ways they had used the phone and all the fees that had been incurred. This report would be sent two ways, by mail and, more important, electronically. The electronic version would also be stored and downloadable on a secure Web site. Producing the RECAP reports would cost cell phone carriers very little, but the reports would be extremely useful for customers who want to compare the pricing plans of cell phone providers, especially after they had received their first annual statement. Private Web sites similar to existing travel sites would emerge to allow an easy way to compare services. With just a few quick clicks, a shopper would easily be able to import her usage data from the past year and find out how much various carriers would have charged, given her usage patterns.* Consumers who are new to the product (getting a cell phone for the first time, for example) would have to guess usage information for various categories, but the following year they could take full advantage of the system’s capabilities. We will see that in many domains, from mortgages and credit cards to energy use to Medicare, a RECAP program could greatly improve people’s ability to make good choices.

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