The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life

The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life

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by Uri Gneezy, John List
     
 

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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

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Overview


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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 08/26/2013
Gneezy and List, economists at U.C. San Diego and the University of Chicago, respectively, specialize in ingenious “field experiments” that elucidate the workings of social psychology and decision making: from a ball-tossing game that exposes the social pressures that make women shy away from competition, to role-playing skits that tease out the subtleties of discrimination at car dealerships. There are some less-groundbreaking findings—men, it seems, give more money to door-to-door fundraisers if they are attractive females—but also many counterintuitive insights: it’s possible to boost sales of a wine by raising its price; increase charitable giving by letting prospects opt out of solicitations; and even raise profits by letting customers pay whatever they want for a product. Writing in the Freakonomics vein of breezy pop-econ (Steven Levitt provides the foreword), Gneezy and List assert that “self-interest lies at the root of human motivation,” but it’s a self-interest broadly conceived to include the “warm glow” of philanthropic sacrifice and readily influenced by the unobtrusive policy nudges they suggest. The authors’ lucid, engaging exposition of thought-provoking research spotlights some of our more perverse promptings—and their underlying logic. Photos. Agent: Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

“It is hard to imagine any story of innovation in our thinking about economics that does not involve Uri and John. Both in their independent work and in their joint projects, they have expanded and looked at the sensitive underbelly of economics. I can’t think of a book that I’m looking forward to more than this one.”—Prof. Dan Ariely, Professor of Behavioral Economics, Duke University; author, Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality

“John List and Uri Gneezy are among the foremost behavioral economists in the world. Their ideas have been groundbreaking, and their research has been widely read and hugely influential. I'll be eager to read any book they produce.” —Prof. Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University and Author of Stumbling on Happiness

“John List’s work in field experiments is revolutionary.”—Prof. Gary Becker, University of Chicago, Nobel Laureate in Economics

“John List and Uri Gneezy have done the pioneering economic work on whether gender differences are innate or the result of social pressures. They are two of America's leading young economists and their work is followed with great interest.”—Prof. Tyler Cowen, George Mason University; author, The Economic Scene and blogger, Marginal Revolution.com

“John List and Uri Gneezy are leaders in the area of experimental and behavioral economics and rising stars of the profession. Their work bridges the gap between the lab and the field and enables us to learn how economic agents make real decisions in controlled environments and as the economic stakes change. A book bringing their distinctive perspectives and styles has the potential of being a real home run.”—Prof. Daron Acemoglu, Professor of Economics, M.I.T, coauthor of Why Nations Fail

“Gneezy and List are two of the most brilliant and interesting economists in the world. Their work is simultaneously scientifically path breaking and accessible to the general public. They've studied prosaic markets like baseball card conventions, daycare centers, and auto-repair shops, but their ideas are so deep that Gneezy and List reveal that these mundane markets turn out to hold the secrets of human motivation and human behavior. Their work has revolutionized all of social science. I can't wait to read a book that they write.”—Prof. David Laibson, Professor of Economics, Harvard University

Kirkus Reviews
2013-09-15
More fun, Freakonomics-style stories about why people do the things they do. In this debut, Gneezy (Behavioral Economics/Univ. of California, San Diego) and List (Economics/Univ. of Chicago) draw on 20 years of pioneering field research to explain human motivations. Conducting randomized experiments that examine people's behavior in the real world, they have explored "the real underbelly of human motivation" behind problems in such areas as education, discrimination and gender equity. Their informative stories about the behavior of people in real-life situations discuss their fascinating discoveries: Most modern-day discrimination stems from people or companies trying to increase their profits. Women earn less because of deeply held cultural worldviews. Financial incentives help underachieving school kids get higher grades. Donors give money mainly to feel good about themselves. In sum, write the authors, "self-interest lies at the root of human motivation--not necessarily selfishness, but self-interest." Once one understands what people value (money, relationships, praise, etc.), it should be possible to help close the achievement gap in schools, get donors to give more money, and so on, by designing incentives that work to change behavior. Gneezy and List offer illuminating discussions on many topics, from the differences between animus-based and economic discrimination to how women can grow up to be more competitive and close the gender gap in the labor market. Their book brims with stories of the Chicago public schools, the matrilineal society of the Khasi tribal people, and the thinking behind charitable appeals to help children with cleft palates, among others. Weak title aside, this book will interest general readers as well as individuals and companies seeking to influence behaviors.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781610393119
Publisher:
PublicAffairs
Publication date:
10/08/2013
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
569,032
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt


The sign on the road in the Khasi hills of northeast India had a puzzling message: “Equitable distribution of self-acquired property rights.” We asked Minott, our driver, what it meant.

“I do not work in the rice fields, like most men of my tribe,” he told us proudly. “I work as a translator. And a driver. And I operate a gas station in my sister’s house. And I trade goods at the market. You see! I work very hard!”

We nodded in agreement. He certainly seemed like a natural-born entrepreneur….But Minott’s life was constricted. Many of the things he wanted to do required his sister’s permission, because in the matrilineal Khasi society, women hold the economic power. The sign on the road, Minott explained, was part of a nascent men’s movement, as the men in Khasi society began to articulate their resentment over being treated as “breeding bulls and babysitters.” Here was a parallel universe—one we believed might help us solve one of the most vexing economic questions in Western society, inequality between men and women.

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