I just read "Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness." It nicely combines two subjects I've been very interested in recently-- behavioral economics and public policy.
The basic idea is to use knowledge of our built-in biases to nudge us towards doing the right thing. For example, if you ask people to put 3% of their salary into a retirement plan today, most people will say no. But if you ask them if they're willing commit to putting 3% in the next time they get a raise, most people will say yes.
We value money or things that we own right now more than things we don't.
Another example they use: install a light that shows people how much energy your house is using (green for not much, red for a lot), and people use a lot less energy.
We're not very good at turning long-term goals into short-term actions, unless we get short-term reminders. New York city's recent requirement that chain restaurants post calorie counts alongside items in their menus will be a very interesting test of this-- will the short-term reminder help people eat less and get skinnier?
I really like the approach of encouraging people to do the right thing with "nudges" instead of trying to force them with mandates. Now, if I could just figure out a way of nudging people to be less verbose in Town Meeting...