Choices2A bat and a ball cost $1.10 together. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does each cost?

Poor Behaviour, The Economist, 6 December 2014

The bat costs $1.05 and the ball costs 5 cents. The mind, as this article says, can play tricks. People do not think with 100% accuracy and so will not always act rationally, or what appears to be rationally. If you want to change behavior, you must understand what people think and why they think it.

People who are poor may appear to be acting irrationally, but their thoughts and behaviors arise from their circumstances:

  • They are more likely to lack the basic information needed to make good choices.
  • They are more likely to live in societies which hold mistaken or harmful views, such as that girls should not go to school.


Poverty makes people feel powerless and blunts their aspirations, so they may not even try to improve their lot. When they do, they face obstacles everywhere. They have no margin for error, making them risk averse. If they do not know where their next meal is coming from, saving and investing for the future is hard.

I see insights in this for anyone. Behaviors stem from thoughts, and thoughts are malleable, they can be changed with information. Behaviors that affect health – not smoking, not drinking to excess, getting enough rest, eating more vegetables and less junk food – come about when an individual has the knowledge to make good choices, but also when a society is structured in a way to make those choices the default, especially for those with fewer resources.

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