The behavioral economics pioneer Richard H. Thaler wrote a column in the New York Times yesterday, on how people can behave irrationally in a way that leads to not so great outcomes. The column gave examples of such problems and some suggested fixes.

I posted a comment on Twitter that came across as a harsher and more dismissive critique of Professor Thaler than I intended:

Behavioral econ @R_Thaler says we are too dumb to fix our own mistakes but smart enough to fix everyone else’s

I will try to blame the rudeness on the severe 140 character limit on Twitter, combined with bad judgment and orneriness. (But I think another  irrational bias is that we all tend to dismiss situational explanations for behavior like 140 character limits and to  believe that everything is intentional; plus I should be held responsible anyway.)

I put the longer and politer version of the intended (unoriginal) critique –the Paradox of Behavioral Economics — into an email apology to Professor Thaler (which he graciously accepted):

What I meant was that any fix to irrational behavior would still have to be designed, approved, and implemented by other individuals who are also themselves subject to irrational biases. Sometimes the fix will be possible and a clear improvement, other times not so much.

Professor Thaler’s brand new book Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics is getting great reviews. Hopefully it will lead to a discussion of the Paradox not constrained by 140 character limits. And I am also looking for behavioral insights into how to fix my own rudeness on Twitter.

stone.tif

It’s been 238 years, and we have been fighting to realize these words ever since.

stone.tif

Many around the world now see these words as universal and not specific to any nation, race, or culture

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These are words for which people risk their lives.

All of us who care about these words will never give up until they apply to everyone.

UPDATE 2, May 2, 12:47pm EDT: Is it progress to have provoked a  one-on-one Twitter war with Ethiopian Foreign Minister Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus?

Ethiopia Foreign Minister Twitter

UPDATE: May 2, 2014  Coverage of John Kerry’s “concern” yesterday about arrested Ethiopian bloggers in US media today: none. US State Department follow-up: none.  USAID follow-up: none.

If a US policy concern falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, is it a policy?  END UPDATE

The Ethiopian government, a major US aid recipient, operates with such impunity on rights that it arrested 9 new dissident journalists and bloggers on the eve of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Addis Ababa today. 

Kerry raised his “concerns” about the detained bloggers with in a meeting today with the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam. The Ethiopian PM doesn’t need to be too concerned about US “concerns,” much less any reduction in US aid, since Kerry earlier today more loudly affirmed the US alliance with Ethiopia’s government to fight terrorism and violence in Africa.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The long history of aid ignoring and even facilitating rights abuses in Ethiopia sadly continues.

Delusion of Ethiopian Development

UPDATE: Monday March 17, 2014 5:08pm World Bank responds (see end of this post)

WARNING: the contents of this message are for private entertainment purposes only. Any unauthorized duplication of this message to score cheap points is strictly prohibited.

Email from World Bank, January 27:

I am writing to you in reference to a recent publication: “The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor” by William Easterly.
As part of our high priority events, we’d like to invite the author for a book signing event…  

The events program has hosted internationally renowned speakers including:  Amartya Sen, Angus Deaton…Christy Turlington … as well as numerous Heads of States and Nobel Laureates. 

Email from World Bank, February 5:

I am happy to confirm the event on March 18 from 12-2pm.

Could you please also send me a copy of the book, so we can provide it to a potential moderator.

Email from World Bank, February 6:

We are delighted and look forward to a great and exciting event on March 18. The event will be inside the main Preston auditorium (1818 H Street NW). 

Would it also be possible to send me a galley of the book? 

Email from World Bank, February 13:

Thank you very much for arranging the World Bank book event with Professor Easterly on “The Tyranny of Experts” for March 18, we very much appreciate it. We would like to convey our sincerest apologies though as we have inadvertently overbooked ourselves and have overlapping events that day. Given the large number of high-profile events our very small team is handling, we overlooked and provided you with this date prematurely. We will shortly come back to you with new dates so we may find a mutually suitable one.

February 27 In response to inquiry about rescheduling, World Bank emails back that they hope to work together again at some point in the future.

March 17 World Bank response: Asked to comment on this post last Friday, David Theis, Chief of Media Relations at the World Bank responded with this statement at 5pm, Monday March 17 (a snow day in DC):

“I have confirmed that we indeed had a double booking, so apologies for the scheduling mix-up. We would be more than happy to have you at the Bank and will be in touch to find a date. Sorry for the inconvenience.”