Theory of the Nudnik: The Future of Consumer Activism and What We Can Do to Stop it

That is a new paper by Yonathan A. Arbel and Roy Shapira, forthcoming in Vanderbilt Law Review:

Nudniks are those who call to complain, speak with managers, post online reviews, and file lawsuits. Typified by an idiosyncratic utility function and personality traits, nudniks pursue action where most consumers remain passive. Although derided in courtrooms and the court of public opinion, we show that nudniks can solve consumer collective action problems, thereby leading to broad market improvements.

Second, the Article spotlights a disconcerting development: Sellers’ growing usage of Big Data and predictive analytics allows them to identify specific consumers as potential nudniks and avoid selling to or disarm them before they can draw attention to sellers’ misconduct. The Article therefore captures an understudied problem with Big Data tools: sellers can use these tools to shield themselves from market accountability.

Finally, the Article evaluates a menu of legal strategies that would preserve the benefits of nudnik-based activism in light of these technological developments. In the process, we revisit the conventional wisdom on the desirability of form contracts, mandatory arbitration clauses, defamation law, and standing doctrines.

I am posting an on-line review of sorts on this paper, but I am not complaining.  But perhaps a few of you are nudniks?


This is a great use of Big Data. It is the logical extension of Bernays classifying and focus groups to lead to profitable branding. It is government bulk collection and smear campaigns on private individuals that I am opposed to.

Measure the nudnik rate and that is the cost of insurance. Spend some assets suppressing that rate and reduce the insurance costs but incurs collection costs.

Nudniks don't solve problems, they are another problem: I want, I want, I want, and there is no scarcity. God bless me and to hell with you.

Yes, a good channel for lawyers to earn some more cash.


Be the third person in line behind a nudnik going wild about something in the prices. Worse, it is a small store and only two counters can be open, the crowd is building. Horror.

You have small stores? That's the problem! Corp stores have customer service counters.

I prefer the term Karen personally. The nudnik 'no i won't take no for an answer' hobby kit.

In Australia consumer law is strong. Or at least it appears that way to me in comparison to the US. (You can't change your own oil without voicing your car warranty? Is Stalin secretly running your country?)

Does this increase the number of nudniks as people have an incentive to complain as it's more likely to be successful, or does it decrease them as determined nudnik behaviour is usually not required to get problems addressed?

Nay, law or no law, the complainers' actions are part of the cost of doing business. The idiocy is all in the price! :-)

Consumers pay for the cost of meeting consumer law requirements in the price they pay for goods and services and they benefit from goods and services meeting those requirements.

I would say Australia's level of consumer protection would be around a sensible minimum for a developed country. However, standards are slipping here. For example, active ingredients are no longer listed on toothpaste. How am I supposed to maintain my purity of essence if I don't know whether or not it contains fluoride?

Are you perhaps a Chinese plant acting as Australian? There is nothing in the law here that supports your claim about voiding a manufacturers warranty by chaining your own oil -- or performing any of the other routine maintenance on your car.

Soooooo easy to check on that:

I read an American complaining online about it and that was good enough for me -- on account if I had researched any further I might have found out it wasn't true.

And I'm no Chinese plant! There's no need for me to have any Chinese connection to clearly see the wisdom of Premier Xi Jinping's policies. He only wishes all countries to work together in peace and harmony! Provided of course, certain countries hand over the rights to certain A. A. Milne works so they can be cast forever into the fires of the 18th hell of molten copper.

Crikey is simply another liberast, of the type that one finds in decadent comment sections like this.

If certain firms cater to nudniks while others avoid them, wouldn't consumers switch to the more efficient firm? Otherwise it would seem the non-nudnik consumers might be better off with firms that just cater to them.

Excellent point! Unfortunately there are these things called economies of scale, making it more expensive to the non-nudniks when nudniks have a say. This is where the law matters. Moreover, given transaction costs, it might just be cheaper for any firm to cater to the nudniks anyway, and have the non-nudniks pay.

Nudniks are a pain.

I see a Monty Python skit here. Surely we can have a nudniks support department as well as a dedicated nudniks shoppers super store (which may actually be rather small and might not really require much in the way of product display areas).

Good when enforce standards by standing on principal. Bad when done selfishly to take advantage (this is not cooked correctly please take it back it vs. this is not cooked correctly even though I already ate half)

Is that poor English, poor use of a cell phone, or incoherent?

I understood, so as far as I'm concerned he wrote English good.

Agree. Thought raj's point was clearly stated and at least as well written as many in the USA would write for a comment.

Of course I also think their might be a bit of role play by English Teacher, perhaps showing us that nudniks are hardly a new, or even solely a consumer, phenomenon.

Big data does not have this kind of power. It needs on average 1,000 to 10,000 data points per category to classify data.
Anyway everyone is a potential nudnik. People change over time and are more focused emotionally on some consumption than other.
I don't think it will help companies to shield themselves from feedback.

Big Data is another word for a list passed among vendors.

Some of the legal revolutions of the 1960s involved the increasing number, confidence, and influence of nudniks. Not surprisingly, this had an ethnic angle, with nudniks being most assertive among those who'd invented the word "nudnik."

For example, one of the first huge construction projects shot down on environmental grounds was the Beverly Hills Country Club, founded in 1966 by Dean Martin and a bunch of mobbed-up friends who knew a guy who knew Jimmy Hoffa. Construction involved shoving entire ridges into canyons.

At first, Beverly Hills homeowners were passively accepting of the noise and dust and truck traffic: "Oh, well, I guess it's good for the economy." Back then, everybody assumed they had to accept anything anybody proposed involving bulldozers because it was good for the economy.

Eventually, though, the Beverly Hills homeowners noticed: "Hey, wait a minute, we live in Beverly Hills. The economy is already GREAT for us. Why are we letting people with names like Ice Pick Willie who is based out of Philly mess up our neighborhood for many years? We need to file some of those new ecology lawsuits."

Eventually, the Beverly Hills Country Club collapsed in environmental lawsuits and skimming from the Teamsters pension fund. Then there was just a big hole in the ground until well into the 1980s. Now, finally, it's the Beverly Park gated community, where people like Stallone, Wahlberg, Murphy, and Bonds live.

So the nudniks did some good.

There you go again, Sailer, dragging facts into the conversation. This is an economics blog, sirrah: facts are dismissed as anecdotes.

I like anecdotes that illustrate giant historical trends involving famous celebrities and mobsters, but I notice that a lot of academics feel I must be cheating by being interesting. For example, I pointed out in 2006 that David Card's celebrated study of how the Mariel boatlift to Miami didn't cut wages in 1980-84 relative to 4 other cities wasn't ceteris paribus because Miami in 1980-84 was undergoing the most notorious Cocaine Boom in economic history, as mentioned in pop culture classics like Scarface and Miami Vice.

And for years economists have tried to ignore that, perhaps on the grounds that this is too vivid and interesting.

This is peak Sailer. Be interesting and stop punching down. Let the noticing speak for itself.

Not so sure about "nudnik." Rosten cites Morris Rosenfeld who defines a nudnik as someone "whose purpose in life is to the bore the rest of humanity."

They might have done better with nebech or nebekh. Rosten cites the proverb: "Better ten enemies than one nebekh." Also: "When a nebekh leaves the room, you feel as if someone came in."

Rosten also offers a triple distinction: "The shlemiel trips, and knocks down the shlimazl; and the nebekh repairs the shlimazl's glasses."

Good stuff. I never thought to read any of Rosten’s books about Yiddish, but maybe I should.

Nudnik is a loaner word from Yiddish. It’s etymology is Yiddish. It is now an English word with its own English connotation and English definition.

As a native Yiddish speaker, I agree with Klein/Rosten/Rosenfeld.

Maybe "kvetch" is a better term.

Was Howard Beale a Nudnik?

Howard Beale was a device Paddy Chaefsky used to make a point about media. "Those who the gods would destroy they first make insane" -attributed to Prometheus.

It's common knowledge that many if not most Amazon reviews (of products as well as books) are fake. Why do people take the time to post fake reviews? I suppose one could ask why people take the time to post comments on this blog? I skimmed the article and didn't find anything about nudnik imposters. There's a section on sellers using big data to identify real nudniks but not nudnik imposters. Empowering consumers against monopoly sellers or near monopoly sellers sounds appealing (to level the playing field), but what about the problem of empowering consumers to attack sellers they just don't like, or just for the thrill of it. In some communities (e.g., college communities), Facebook vigilantism is a thing, more than an annoying thing. Using the internet to undermine someone's reputation can destroy lives. Okay, maybe nudniks have a role in today's economy, with the preponderance of large, impersonal firms (as opposed to the neighborhood store owned and operated by a member of one's church). What's unstated in the article is that nudniks are the alternative to government regulation of bad behavior by sellers, the little guy, the nudnik, up against the large, impersonal firm, with the courts there to protect the nudnik specifically and consumers generally, what is being sold as the "market" approach to consumer protection (as opposed to the "big government" approach). It's a nice story, but like the reviews in Amazon, it's fake.

Warning! Warning!

It seems a spectrum of actions, 'passive to active' exists that the seller can take. Those listed are passive: "avoid selling to or disarm them before they can draw attention to sellers’ misconduct". Active might be a targeted influence campaign on nudnicks, or even targeted strikes to destroy the credibility of / neutralize nudnicks. Additionally, there are forms of service discrimination available to a seller.

"Additionally, there are forms of service discrimination available to a seller."

In retail, we sometimes call this the '*sshole tax'. Low maintenance customers (as well as high spenders) get better treatment than pushy ones with attitudes. We definitely push back when we can on those who give us trouble, by charging more or making them jump through more hoops.

Thanks, Vladimir. Вам заплатят во вторник.

I use a lot of yiddish terms myself, but I here I prefer whinger.

"But perhaps a few of you are nudniks?"
Ya think??!

James Green to Japanese:

Toranpu daitōryō no okage de, watashi no komyuniti wa han'ei shi, hanzai wa genshō shite imasu. Toranpu daitōryō no chie to rīdāshippu ni kansha shimasu. Kare ga watashitachi o ichi man-nen no ma michibiite kuremasu yō ni, BANZAI! BANZAI! BANZAI!

Wouldn't nudnik's be a competitive resource? Many times people do not realize what they want until you give it to them. I remember when cell phones first got big and then texting became an option. Type on a phone, why? That was my initial reaction now, of course, it makes sense.

Why wouldn't a firm want to have a focus group of nudniks and develop a killer product?

There is a subspecies sometimes referred to as a serial suer. One notorious plaintiff was a Mrs. B*** back in the 1970s in New York City. A well dressed woman in her 50s with a feathered hat. She had suits pending against utilities, landlord, merchants and others all prosecuted without an attorney. She then commenced suing judges who ruled against her presenting a problem for the civil court system. Spending days in court probably became a hobby of sorts something to do.

I never hassle manufacturers. I rarely even return products. If I don't like the way they work I throw them out.

But I do see some of those bad products disappear from the shelves fairly quickly .. as the more vocal feedback is processed. That is useful.

Could big data really improve this? If it identifies the excessively litigious that might be useful, but if it excludes conscientious "beta testers" not so much.

In the "ship early and often" world of software development early customers are often ruefully called "beta testers," because the software industry often relies on first round users as last round testers.

So improve that AI, and find good testers!

As an aside, I think many writers now beta test on Twitter. They put and idea out there and see the feedback. Very few others (nudniks?) will scroll through to review your reviews.

I had a quicksilver toy when I was a child. You tried to make the beads go through a plexiglass maze. We found it very diverting, Mother and I. Being clumsy, I soon shattered it. We sopped it up with kleenex. I think this moment inoculated me as an anti-nudnik. If at a restaurant the wrong dish comes, I eat it. There have been two lapses. Once, I was annoyed with a box of Lipton's tea in enticing tropical flavors that advertised itself only as "Naturally Sweetened." They've figured out a way to get sugar or honey in the teabags? ... That turned out to mean, Naturally Unsweetened with Stevia to Make Your Tongue Feel Weird. I called the number on the box and they sent me some coupons for the same product. The other thing I fret about is dishwashers. I'm dismayed that you buy a dishwasher and presently the obligatory electronic panel goes out because it gets steamy or something, and the cost to repair it is invariably $100 more than the cost of a new dishwasher. That seems wasteful, throwing all those perfectly good dishwasher tubs in the landfill.

By the by, I noticed in eating my 4,000th Oreo the other day that it had failed to be stamped with the demonic design. It turns out it really doesn't taste as good without it!

--but what if "consumer activism" has no future?

The endless pursuit of malignant metrics may yet drive coveted consumers directly into ANTI-CONSIUMERISM mode--in which case "consumer evasion" from all the commercial tech spying we're all now exposed to and beset with can become normative.

You tech fiends have turned the entire planet into a global treadmill: your test animals already are dying of 24/7/365 commercial exhaustion, and it shows.

As the treadmill turns it's "death to consumerism" or it's "death to consumers".

"Typified by an idiosyncratic utility function." Hahahaha.

Academic writing can be very, very funny.

It's possible nudniks provide a public good. But more often they simply create costs for firms that in a pooling equilibrium raise prices for the rest of us. Firms to one degree or another have used statistical discrimination to charge high cost customers more, to the harm of those misidentified (not to mention the inefficiency effect). If big data allows firms to better identify customer who are high cost, that's a win.

Everything, democracy itself, requires non-free-riders. Call them nudnicks. Call them whistleblowers.

The chik fil a in Sydney Marcus in Atlanta routinely has 15 min wait times at drive through, the hash browns are always soggy, and they took over a year longer than other chik fil a to get dip-able katchup packets. Someone needs to do something about this!!!!

I am sometimes a Nudnik. Often with airlines.

But at least in theory, nudnicks are not essentials in a market-based environment. People simply vote with their wallet.

Nudnicks’ value is paramount in monopoly situation, especially statist monopoly (anonymous above states the same). For example, I am sometimes a nudnick with police, in the small country where I live and where I have a (very small) modicum of influence.

"Nudniks are those who call to complain, speak with managers..."

I thought that's a term for white women living in higher socio-economic areas.

Whereas a Podcast is a group of white men.

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