Nudge off


"Persuading Us to be Good" is a new programme on BBC Radio 4 broadcast last night and previewed here. The question the article opens with is, "Are you a good citizen?" If you are bad, and you aren't recycling your grandmother in the name of Gaia, then how does the government get you to act? They may ultimately be investigating the use of advice from behavioural economists who have developed the idea of influencing human behaviour via gentle prodding and goading.

"Let us do your thinking for you. We know you are busy and don't have time to find out about the issues that matter to us. We know that you hold completely different, yet, irrelevant issues, dear to yourself which we will gloss over. We will provide you with all the government sourced information you require for us to make a decision for you. But just so that we can alleviate the guilt of telling you what we want you to do, we're going to let you do a little for us via us moralising at you." That's pretty much what paternalism is. How do you get large swathes of the informed populace to take up crass public policy initiatives that have little or no benefit to the broader scheme of things? Especially when there is zero incentive to the persons undertaking the sacrifice. (The warm fuzzy feeling that the bureaucrats feel inside does not count as an incentive).

The question should not be whether politicians can shape our behaviour but can information put forward by either side of an argument persuade us. Imagine if there was no imposed cost upon our liberty with regard to our paying of taxation. What would the outcome be if we were allowed to offer up our own sums of what we thought fair. It would not be what the government thought fair. It would not be what the moral minority thought it should be either. There is little difference between nudging someone or standing over them with a gun. Both impose upon liberty and both subjugate the individual to a will that is not their own.