In a previous blog post, I wrote about a small airfare tax that’s been implemented in a number of countries to help fight three of the world’s deadliest diseases. The idea behind the initiative (UNITAID) is to raise funds by applying a small levy on domestic and international flights; a levy so small that most people do not even take notice. It’s interesting what the success of this method says about us and human behavior. Let’s say, had a traveler been given the option to donate $1 before purchasing the air ticket, the outcome of UNITAID would probably have been very different. While studies show that there’s a strong connection between giving and the level of happiness, most people opt out. Why?
David Brooks of The New York Times points out that “we spend trillions of dollars putting policies and practices into place, but most of these efforts are based on the crudest possible psychological guesswork.” Understanding behavioral sciences is important. As he points out, sometimes “behavioral research leads us to completely change how we think about an issue,” and result in new policy approaches. He’s referring to one well-known example, which has to do with default settings: “Roughly 98 percent of people take part in organ donor programs in European countries where you have to check a box to opt out. Only 10 percent or 20 percent take part in neighboring countries where you have to check a box to opt in.” There’s something magical about the check box!