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July Meetup: The Why Axis by Uri Gneezy and John List

Behavioral Researchers, 

For our July Meet Up we are going to read "The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life Hardcover by Uri Gneezy and John List."  We are meeting in Little Chihuahua, a small Mexican restaurant located on the corner of Divisadero St and Page St.  

Can't wait to see you all then!


P.S. If you would like to lead July's discussion, please let me know. 



Can economics be passionate?… Can it center on people and what really matters to them day-in and day-out.… And help us understand their hidden motives for why they do what they do in everyday life?

Uri Gneezy and John List are revolutionaries. Their ideas and methods for revealing what really works in addressing big social, business, and economic problems gives us new understanding of the motives underlying human behavior. We can then structure incentives that can get people to move mountains, change their behavior—or at least get a better deal.

But finding the right incentive can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Gneezy and List’s pioneering approach is to embed themselves in the factories, schools, communities, and offices where people work, live, and play. Then, through large-scale field experiments conducted “in the wild,” Gneezy and List observe people in their natural environments without them being aware that they are observed.

Their randomized experiments have revealed ways to close the gap between rich and poor students; to stop the violence plaguing inner-city schools; to decipher whether women are really less competitive than men; to correctly price products and services; and to discover the real reasons why people discriminate.

To get the answers, Gneezy and List boarded planes, helicopters, trains, and automobiles to embark on journeys from the foothills of Kilimanjaro to California wineries; from sultry northern India to the chilly streets of Chicago; from the playgrounds of schools in Israel to the boardrooms of some of the world’s largest corporations. In The Why Axis, they take us along for the ride, and through engaging and colorful stories, present lessons with big payoffs.

Their revelatory, startling, and urgent discoveries about how incentives really work are both revolutionary and immensely practical. This research will change both the way we think about and take action on big and little problems. Instead of relying on assumptions, we can find out, through evidence, what really works. Anyone working in business, politics, education, or philanthropy can use the approach Gneezy and List describe in The Why Axis to reach a deeper, nuanced understanding of human behavior, and a better understanding of what motivates people and why.

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  • Hareesh

    Will have to skip this one to watch the world cup finals. A big behavioral experiment on the field right there.

    July 11, 2014

    • Wendy De La R.

      Hey Hareesh! Hope you enjoyed the WC. We are having a make up session on Wed. if you are interested in joining. Hope you can make it :)

      July 13, 2014

  • Sunil

    Also passing because of WC. (Sports 1: Economics 0)

    July 11, 2014

    • Wendy De La R.

      Haha - great post! Let's try to even out the score a bit. We are having a make up session on Wed. Hopefully you can make it :)

      July 13, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    This MOOC seems perfect for this group:

    June 22, 2014

  • Wendy De La R.

    Hey gang, I love the comments here. Let's continue with Why Axis for this month. Next month we will focus on another type of BE book. Please make sure to vote for book of the month in our discussion threads. The next one will be posted right after our July meet up.

    June 30, 2014

  • Sergei W.

    I wouldn't mind going through the "Why Axis" book as long as we keep the politics separate. One of my objectives would be to condense the book into one page of "what we have learned about behavior". As to motivation, "why we need behavioral economics", I'm surprised this question needs any discussion, and also (being an outsider in economics) I'm surprised that there is any other, "non-behavioral" economics at all. Economics is supposed to be about the motivation and behavior of people with respect to resources and labor, isn't it?

    June 18, 2014

    • Carlos C.

      No mainstream economist would say that they are non-behavioral. Adam Smith makes a few assumptions about human behavior in Wealth of Nations, and I'm not sure they've modified that understanding since. But psychology was nascent at the time, and the best they had to go on were the speculations of philosophers (arm-chair or prominent). Also, interdisciplinary study itself is relatively new (ignoring the prior times when all science was just natural philosophy). BE is an outgrowth of this interdisciplinary activity.

      June 18, 2014

    • Carlos C.

      My perception of BE is that it is like a precocious child who's good at criticizing their parents, but lacks perspective. BE has developed no fuller model of a large scale economy, analyzing the pros and cons of free trade, etc. This is appropriate to ensure the build-up of a body of evidence. But BE practitioners are often far too eager to discard 'economics' without a fuller understanding. Econ one of those topics that everyone thinks they understand, but really don't. 'Economics in One Lesson' is a great intro and an eye opener.

      1 · June 18, 2014

  • Ted F.

    I agree with Carlos below for the most part. Unless everyone in the group has already done so, I think the group would benefit from the history and context regarding WHY we need behavioral economics when it's much cheaper to be an armchair economist. This may require reading articles before Kahneman/Tversky like Herbert Simon (or even David Hume). I am willing to provide some ideas for reading if is anyone is interested.

    June 17, 2014

  • Carlos C.

    In the last meeting there was a push to stay away from politics, despite the fact that the book was very political. This book seems like much of the same. Elementary level subject matter applied to political problems (in this case addressing wealth gaps in education an the like). I have no problem with staying out of politics, but not when we're reading political books. If we're going to ask if BE can address political issues, we have to analize the nature of the politics. I think I'll skip this one.

    To be constructive, I would recommend books by Kahneman, Ariely, and the like. These are books that get into some of the fascinating issue of BE verses classical Econ. The Will Power Instinct is also good. The other approach would be to read books that are not about BE, but for which BE analysis might prove interesting. Easier said than done, but traditional economics or philosophy books might be constructive. Asking how BE might invalidate certain theoretical frameworks. This is pro...

    June 9, 2014

    • Carlos C.

      This is probably more of a challenging research question than a book club subject. I'm just trying to generate ideas.

      June 9, 2014

    • Carlos C.

      One core question I have is if some schools of economics are more blind to BE results than others. It is my whimsical hypothesis that Austrian School Econ does not assume these non-existent 'econs'. But I haven't explored the topic deeply.

      June 9, 2014

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