October 10, 2016

Nudging in an Evolving Marketplace

How Markets Improve Their Own Choice Architecture
  • Todd Zywicki

    Senior Fellow, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
  • Adam C. Smith

    Assistant Professor of Economics, Johnson and Wales University
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Behavioral economics claims to have identified certain systematic biases in human decision-making with the implied assumption — sometimes leading to an explicit policy proposal — that these biases can only be corrected through centralized planning. While the appropriateness of policy corrections to perceived biases remains an open debate, far less attention has focused on the role markets already play in “nudging” consumers toward more mutually beneficial outcomes. We describe a process by which markets evolve over time to satisfy consumer preferences — or risk failure and removal from the marketplace. By organizing our understanding of markets in this dynamic, evolutionary sense, we expose a basic logic that dominates market transactions as they occur in practice; that is, the mechanisms that ultimately survive market competition tend to compensate for, limit, or otherwise reduce the incidence of bias. We explore empirical evidence for this argument in the market for consumer financial products.