The Last Mile Problem

Solving Social Problems with a Nudge
Sendhil Mullainathan
Behavioral economist
TEDIndia 2009

MacArthur winner Sendhil Mullainathan uses the lens of behavioral economics to study a tricky set of social problems — those we know how to solve, but don’t. We know how to reduce child deaths due to diarrhea, how to prevent diabetes-related blindness and how to implement solar-cell technology … yet somehow, we don’t or can’t. Why?

cited in:

How Can A Nudge Save A Life?
TED Radio Hour
June 24, 2016

October 24, 2015


Bandwidth poverty

Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function
Science 30 August 2013: 341 (6149): 976-980
Anandi Mani, Sendhil Mullainathan, Eldar Shafir3, Jiaying Zhao
Harvard Kennedy School
John F. Kennedy School of Government
mental resources

journalistic versions:

June 13, 2014
The demands of the moment override the demands of the future, making that future harder to reach.

“There are three types of poverty,” he says. “There’s money poverty, there’s time poverty, and there’s bandwidth poverty.” The first is the type we typically associate with the word. The second occurs when the time debt of the sort I incurred starts to pile up.

And the third is the type of attention shortage that is fed by the other two: If I’m focused on the immediate deadline, I don’t have the cognitive resources to spend on mundane tasks or later deadlines.
If I’m short on money, I can’t stop thinking about today’s expenses — never mind those in the future. In both cases, I end up making decisions that leave me worse off because I lack the ability to focus properly on anything other than what’s staring me in the face right now, at this exact moment.


You are so focused on the urgent that …

Sendhil Mullainathan on Scarcity
2013 Global Empowerment Meeting. Nov. 11, 2013
CID Harvard

Harvard University economics professor …  explains how scarcity – and our flawed responses to it – shapes our lives, our society, and our culture.
scarcity generates a similar psychological reaction for everyone struggling to manage with less than they need. The dynamics of scarcity reveal why dieters find it hard to resist temptation, why students mismanage their time and why sugarcane farmers are smarter after the harvest than before.
Scarcity provides a new way of understanding why the poor stay poor and reveals not only how scarcity leads us astray …

Lexical Decision Task

time scarciy has this huge productive benefit

Raven’s progressive matrices: fluid intelligence

26:55 the effect of thinking about money for the poor has the same magnitude as going a night without sleep

28:20 ~ 9 IQ points

fault tolerance


Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much
Sendhil Mullainathan
The Aspen Institute. Sep 26, 2013

How Scarcity Trap Affects Our Thinking, Behavior
January 02, 2014
by Shankar Vedantam

Scarcity, whether of time or money, tends to focus the mind on immediate challenges.
You stretch your budget to make ends meet.
People in the grip of scarcity are tightly focused on meeting their urgent needs, but that focus comes at a price.
Important things on the periphery get ignored.

That’s at the heart of the scarcity trap. You are so focused on the urgent that the important gets waylaid. But because the important gets waylaid, you’re experiencing even more scarcity tomorrow.