"Predictably Irrational," by Dan Ariely

Here is yet another in the flood of books proving that most of the time we don't have a clue why we do what we do, and when asked, we consistently lie about it. Ariely is a lively writer, clearly deriving way more fun than you would expect from being a Professor of Behavioral Economics at MIT.

The subtitle is "the hidden forces that shape our decisions." Once again, we learn that people see, hear, and feel just about what they expect, and that "framing" often determines behavior. Example: take a group of Asian-American women about to take a math test. Divide them into two groups. Ask the first group what they think about a variety of gender related issues: the state of coed dorms, etc. Ask the second group to describe which language is spoken at home, family histories, etc. The first group, subtly reminded of the stereotype of women not being good at math, don't do as well as the second group, whose stereotype of academically high-performing Asians is reinforced.

Then there's the mysterious power of placebos.

Then there's a lot of fascinating discussion (back at the beginning of the book) about how we come to judge one thing as better than another. In general, we set the "value" of something based on how it is presented to us.

What does this have to do with libraries?

Suppose librarians gave public presentations that began like this:

Health insurance for your family: $600 each month
Cell phones (3 lines): $90 per month
Monthly phone bill: $50 per month
Cable television subscription: $40 per month
Movies: $10 apiece, 2 people (not including popcorn), twice a month = $40 per month
Average cost (in 2006) of a single hardback nonfiction book: $30
Average cost (in 2006) of a single paperback nonfiction book: $19.25
Public libraries: ?????

What would you pay? Would you pay $20 a month for high speed internet access, unlimited access to comprehensive consumer health information, all the books you can read, all the movies you can watch, all the programs you can attend, free meeting rooms? Sound reasonable?

Of course it does -- and yet such a level of support for a public library would equal at least twice the average public library support in Colorado alone.

As I've noted elsewhere, there are many hands in my pocket. Few give the bang for the buck of the public library. Despite all the railing against taxes, the truth is that the "government" of the public library is far more affordable than many similar services in the private sector -- and may be used far more often, too.


In this blog I expose something similar, though my idea is less brilliant than Dan Ariely's approaches. The Spanish university is very bad, I am sorry.

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