Monday, January 27, 2014

Maybe this time it will work

Since last spring, I've been interested in writing about behavioral economics and retirement policy.  In particular, I've had in mind the "nudge" literature - for example, Raj Chetty's important study along with a number of others that reach similar findings, Richard Thaler's and Cass Sunstein's book on nudges, and their related article on libertarian paternalism.  These seemed to me to offer fertile and timely ground if interacted (so to speak) with both my older and my more recent work on Social Security.

But as you can perhaps see already from the way I have stated the underlying motivation, this project has been far more a bunch of thoughts and ideas in search of an overall framework, than a crisply structured project.  So I was having a lot of trouble with this article idea last summer, although I did reach 30 pages or so in a fourth try that I then had to shelve for 5 months due to a host of other commitments.

By the time I had gotten my nose close enough to the water's surface to think about how I should proceed upon resuming the project, it had become clear to me that the current structure (such as it was, and if one even call call it that) was unsound.  My next idea was to break it into two pieces, one about savings "incentives" (from an income tax perspective) vs. default rules vs. expanding Social Security benefits, and the other about libertarian paternalism.  But this pair of projects didn't quite feel right either.

Today I am hoping - although still far from 100 percent certain - that I have finally gotten my hands around the project in a constructive way.  The current plan has the tentative title "Multiple Myopias, Multiple Selves, and the Under-Saving Problem."  If it does work out - which I won't really know until I've invested more hours in it - and if my schedule over the next few months proves kind to me, then perhaps I might even have it done by May.

If the current plan does indeed work out, it will have illustrated once again how much better people (I don't think I'm unusual in this regard) sometimes are at working "off-line."  That is, when you're vexed by a problem, sometimes the best thing to do is get good and frustrated, then spend a couple of days not thinking about it.  Always a great feeling if / when the off-line mental functions, operating beyond or beneath one's consciousness, turn out to have been studiously beavering away, such that when your conscious mind re-engages you soon find out that you have a solution.

Of course, I hope I'm not jinxing the process by implying prematurely that I have indeed found the path at last this time around.

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