Grist / VCG / VCG via Getty Images As the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the country last year, then-candidate Joe Biden pushed one message again and again: “Build Back Better.” The phrase now lends its name to the White House’s massive, multi-pronged proposal to help the country recover from the COVID-induced recession, tackle climate change, and bring the country’s railroads, bridges, and water pipes into the modern era. But what if this ambitious plan misses an easier opportunity: remove what isn’t working? The Biden administration’s slogan reveals something about how people normally go about trying to improve the world — they’re driven by a default impulse to build big things to solve big problems. New research suggests that people often overlook the option of getting rid of elements in favor of adding new ones, even when the simpler solution is superior. Behavioral scientists are making the case that a “subtractive” approach could be useful in tackling global problems like the climate crisis. “Especially in this moment, there’s a strong push to focus on repairing or rebuilding existing infrastructure, which is in some ways a form of status quo thinking,” said Erin Sherman, a vice president of Ideas42, a nonprofit behavioral […]


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