By itself, of course, this does not solve the savings challenge so many Americans struggle with. But it’s remarkable for a couple of reasons. One is its clever appeal to human tendencies recognized in behavioral-economics research but seldom harnessed to socially desirable goals. Another is that it is squarely aimed at the 67 million Americans inartfully described as “unbanked or underbanked”—a massive group that financial innovators have long ignored, even though that group, more than any other part of the population, could use some financial innovation.
Americans’ difficulty saving, Daniel Eckert told me recently, is a textbook example of how brains wired to reckon with short-term threats and opportunities struggle to think about long-term consequences—and struggle even harder to take current action to stave off future disaster. Eckert, who oversees Walmart’s financial-services businesses, became interested in behavioral economics while earning his M.B.A. at the University of Chicago in the early 2000s.
I have talked to a score of Cubs players over the years and carefully asked about . . . this curse stuff. They answer with a kind of monologue of aplomb: I was always the best athlete in my town. I pitched a shutout and hit three home runs in our state championship game. I’ve been a SportsCenter highlight. I’m a winner. I’m lucky. That’s what got me here. Hard work and skill are real, not curses.
But a few minutes later, they might talk about what their first thoughts were when they heard they were coming to the Cubs: Great town. Best park, best fans. You’ll never be more popular in your life than you will be on the north side of Chicago. But you hear these stories . . .
He should have known the book was loaded. Norman Podhoretz started writing “Making It” in 1964. He was thirty-four years old and the editor of Commentary. His idea was to write a book about how people in his world, literary intellectuals, were secretly motivated by a desire for success—money, power, and fame—and were also secretly ashamed of it. He offered himself as Exhibit A. By confessing to his own ambition, he would make it safe for others to confess to theirs, and thereby enjoy without guilt the worldly goods their strivings had brought them. As he put it, he would do for ambition what D. H. Lawrence had done for sex. He would make the case for Mammon.
Now, two years after Goldberg’s death, Sandberg has written a new book, “Option B,” which forthrightly addresses all of these issues. It is a remarkable achievement: generous, honest, almost unbearably poignant. It reveals an aspect of Sandberg’s character that “Lean In” had suggested but — because of the elitism at its center — did not fully demonstrate: her impulse to be helpful.