As part of the 21st annual Warwick Economics Summit, Barry Schwartz delivered a riveting keynote address to our virtual audience on 5th February, 2022.
Below, you will find our official Summit Press Release for the event, which summarises the speech's highlights, and is accompanied by a collection of the very best quotes from Barry Schwartz at WES 2022.
On February 5th, Prof. Barry Schwartz, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Swarthmore College, discussed the widespread, misdirected near-worship of efficiency in society - driving our economic and social interactions - before hundreds of virtual audience members at the student-run Warwick Economics Summit 2022.
In a world driven by the ever-accelerating hunger for progress, people are moved to maximise the outcomes of their actions. Efficiency has become the key concept behind our supply chains, management of our household budgets, investments in our own personal development - and the list goes on. This obsession with efficiency - while having been responsible for driving down costs and enlarging the scale of production - has also prevented us from experiencing any psychological satisfaction with what we have, "and that's a terrible idea," believes Prof. Schwartz.
In the trade-off between security and wealth, or friction and uncertainty, Prof. Schwartz argued that our institutions - whether political or financial - would do well to incorporate more of the latter. More measures in the interest of resilience - and the type of friction that mitigates for the serious uncertainties present in our world, but that our everyday decision-making tends to forget - would be an asset to our societal structures. Prof Schwartz argued that, by building these frictions - checks and balances, risk modelling, and other measures - into our political and economic decision-making, we can insure our states against future crises that resemble Covid-19, and to prevent future crises (themselves the product of the craze about efficiency) that resemble the 2008 financial crash.
Moreover, on a personal level, Prof. Schwartz championed the psychological benefits of satisficing; of accepting 'good enough' and abandoning maximisation, or the endless pursuit of 'the best'. In the trade-off between the innovation driven by maximisation, and the life satisfaction protected by satisficing, Prof. Schwartz encourages us to lean into the satisficing approach, posing that "it is okay to go through life and be satisfied with good enough, as long as you keep your eyes open and notice when better smacks you in the face". Ultimately, Prof. Schwartz's thought-provoking talk left us with the poignant advice: "the trick is to take advantage of accidental improvements in your life, without being slavishly devoted to always deliberately finding those improvements in your life."
"Unfortunately, there is a lot of thinking that satisficing is the suboptimal result; that it is the best that stupid people can do. I want to emphasise that satisficing is normatively correct. The rational thing to do is to satisfice."
"I think the deep flaw revealed in our lack of readiness for the economic meltdown is in the unbridled pursuit of efficiency, and neglect of security. Things need not be this way. We could work to put a little friction back into our lives; we could work to rekindle social norms that slow things down. (...) A little something to slow us down in the uncertain world we inhabit may be a lifesaver, building friction into the system; building resilience into the system. And it may be a kind of insurance policy against catastrophe."
"The trick is to take advantage of accidental improvements in your life, without being slavishly devoted to always deliberately finding those improvements in your life."
"Even if you forget what it's like to live in an uncertain world, the social structures within which you live won't forget. And I think that's the key: to have social institutions that overcome our own forgetfulness about how bad life can be in the face of uncertainty."
"Individuals differ in how much choice is the right amount. In addition, within an individual there are differences from one domain to another. I don't want a choice among 200 kinds of breakfast cereal, but I might not mind the choice among 200 books to read. So it's very difficult to legislate what the right amount of choice is, and then impose it, so that people's lives are less chaotic and they can make better choices. We need to learn that for ourselves."
"When things are going well, we radically underestimate how uncertain the world is. We similarly overestimate our ability to control the things that matter."
Press release written by Natalia Tronina and Ingrid Bahnemann
VIDEO RECORDING OF THE TALK:
You will find the video recording of Barry Schwartz's full talk, delivered at WES 2022, here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/onpn6vmjv9dknaj/AAA7TvalX1wmjFDjtgO_F9Nfa/Day%202?dl=0&preview=Barry_Schwartz_Day2.mp4&subfolder_nav_tracking=1
A NOTE ON PRESS RELEASE REDISTRIBUTION:
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