Nudging Themselves Out

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Slate has run a puff piece about five examples of so-called libertarian paternalism (i.e., the practice of using insights gained from psychological studies to trick people into behaving the way the gang in charge of a government wants them to) being put into practice around the globe. I found the following passage thought-provoking:

In September 2012, the government of Australia's most populous state announced that it would consult with Britain's nudge unit to formulate new policies over a wide variety of areas. As in other places that have adopted behavioralist ideas, the new plan was decried by some commentators as a "toxic import from Britain" and a "threat ... to democratic public life." But the New South Wales government -- like Britain, controlled by the center-right -- is clearly intrigued by the prospect of increasing government revenue and promoting virtuous behavior in citizens without resorting to direct state interventions.
"But"?  Either a politician (or his party generally) favors individual rights and capitalism or he does not, and his view of the proper role of government will follow from his actual preference. The whole idea that the government should be in the business of promoting behavior of any type (versus protecting individuals from having their rights violated), or should redistribute wealth by any means disqualfies anyone who looks for new ways to implement it from being regarded as pro-capitalist.

The only contradiction between the politicians' being of the "right" here and the fact that they are being sneaky about being central planners is this: Too many voters apparently believe them to be pro-capitalist. Their attraction to "nudging" actually makes perfect sense, given what they claim to support (or are happy for people to go on believing they support) and what they actually do.

At least when a blatant socialist like Barack Obama hires a "nudger" like Cass Sunstein, there's no similar deception involved. I regard the endorsement or employment of such methods by any politician from "the right" as despicable, and see such a tack as the act of a cowardly statist outing himself.

-- CAV

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