Introduction Knowing what to do is not enough

Policymakers often assume that most of us are self-reliant. But even if we know perfectly well what we ought to do, we often behave differently. If we take psychological insights into account we must conclude that people have limitations in the capacity to act.

Title: Why knowing what to do is not enough.

Anne-Greet Keizer – Research fellow WRR:
In today’s society people are expected 
to take responsibility and be self-reliant.

They must be on constant high alert in areas
such as health, work and personal finances.

But there’s a difference between what governments
expect of people and what they can actually handle.

And this is not confined to just
a small vulnerable group.

Even highly educated people sometimes drop the ball
by not paying attention or postponing things.

And sometimes government itself 
makes people less self-reliant.

For instance: in a system of cumulative fines.

Ignoring a small traffic fine can
quickly amount to problematic debts.

This book explains why knowing
what to do is not enough.

It focuses on people’s capacity to act:
non-cognitive capacities such as

setting goals, taking action, persevering
and coping with temptations and setbacks.

People differ in the degree to which
they possess these capacities.

That’s been shown in the Marshmallow Test.
Small children are offered a choice:

You can eat the marshmallow,
but if you wait, you’ll get two.

We see how children
handle the temptation differently.

Children who were able to wait longer
did better at school later on.

It makes sense for governments
to take this notion into account.

Governments should gauge the mental capacities of people realistically.

That’s good for people’s self-reliance
and the exchequer and for the legitimacy
of government.

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