Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2014
‘Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.’– Mark Twain
‘The diminutive chain of habit is scarcely heavy enough to be felt till it is too strong to be broken.’– simplification of Samuel Johnson quote used in nineteenth-century temperance literature
‘The child is the Father of the Man.’– William Wordsworth
‘The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half.’– Fyodor Dostoevsky
‘Men’s natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them.’– Confucius
‘My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income.’– Errol Flynn
In this chapter, I explore some possible policy implications concerning habitual activities relating to health – such as eating and exercise – that have (for good reason) become the subject of social and policy debate. I do so from the perspective of economic theory, empirical evidence and with a focus on the implications of some recent research in behavioural economics.
I emphasize several themes. First, I outline a simple economic perspective on habitual behaviour. Although it also accords with common sense, reasonable psychology and empirical evidence, there is some tendency by social scientists and policy-makers to neglect this perspective.