Contest! Contest! Contest!
ONE OF THE (MANY) PLEASURES OF MY WASHINGTON NEIGHBORHOOD is the presence
of a lively independent bookstore. Because of its location in the nation’s capital (and the educated—
and opinionated—demographic it draws upon), the bookstore is always able to pick an all-star slate of
speakers from among the many authors trotted out by publishers to flog their books.
Last summer, knowing that
James Guszcza was embarking on a Contingencies article
about behavioral economics
(see Page 26), I popped into the
bookstore to hear legal scholar
Cass Sunstein speak about his
and co-author Richard Thaler’s
then newly published contribution to the genre, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health,
Wealth, and Happiness.
Sunstein, who has since been
tapped by President Obama to
head the Office of Information
and Regulatory Affairs, discussed his concept of “libertarian paternalism” and the many uses to which it can be put in creating
social and economic policy. By taking human fallibility into account, Sunstein said, policymakers can effectively achieve large
societal goals with minor adjustments. The classic example he
gave was switching the default so that employees who don’t want
to participate in a 401(k) plan must take action to opt out, rather
than the more common scenario in which employees must opt
in. In this example, Sunstein explained, you are harnessing the
power of inertia in service to the societal goal of having more
people save for retirement.
While you may disagree with his methods and goals (and many
do), I think Sunstein and others in the burgeoning field of behavioral economics are on to something. (The actuarial profession,
which for generations has been charged with hedging against human frailty, knows just how inexhaustible a resource it is.)
Consider my own frailty (examples abound, but I’ll confine
myself to just this one). Last winter, I had the grand idea of a
Contingencies story contest, centered on the theme of managing risk,
which I duly announced with the first issue of 2009. The winning
entry, in addition to garnering a $100 gift certificate for its author, would be published in the July/August issue of the magazine.
(That would be the issue you currently hold in your hands.)
No story, you say? Well, I got distracted (magazine redesign, new digital edition) and forgot in any way to further
promote the contest. The result was predictable. Only one
brave author (perhaps the
only one who read all the
way through the January/
February Inside Track) took
me up on the offer and sent
in a story. While I’m grateful for his entry, having only
one entrant turns a contest
into no contest. So, I’m going
to reopen the contest and try
again to encourage
Contingencies readers to risk their hand
at short fiction.
First, the details: Your
entry needs to be 2,000 to
3,000 words long and centered on the theme of managing risk. The subject can be risk of any kind—financial,
moral, mortal, personal, global, intergalactic—and how the
protagonist manages it. The (new) deadline is Oct. 16 (for
publication in the January/February 2010 issue of
Contingencies). Entries may be submitted directly to me at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Stories previously published on websites
are eligible for consideration, though not those that have appeared in printed form.
Readers who don’t contribute will, of course, continue to
receive the magazine. But those who do submit an entry will
have earned the dedicated attention of a skilled editor with a
long memory (well, me), the acknowledgment of their peers
that they were willing to try something new, and the opportunity to prove to Contingencies’ many non-actuarial readers,
including policymakers on Capitol Hill, that actuaries aren’t
just one-trick ponies (thus further helping to retire that tired
professional cliché about bean-counters). Plus, they still get the
$100 gift certificate to Amazon.
If nothing comes in over the transom in the next half year,
I’ll have gotten the message and will look for other ways to
stir your creative juices. But I remain hopeful that all you
needed was the right nudge.
JAYKAY57 / ISTOCK