By: Marilyn Assenheim
FOX News reported on Tuesday that the government has created a “Behavioral Insights Team,” which is intended to influence the behavior of Americans. It is being referred to as a “nudge” because the team’s approach has been dubbed “subtle.” One can only assume that such “nudges” are intended to be the second part of a governmental, one-two punch, the first being ham-fisted executive orders. The first forces compliance; the second is designed to mesmerize one into voluntary acquiescence. The program isn’t in planning stages. It has already been implemented. FOX reports: “…the White House is already working on such projects with almost a dozen federal departments and agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture.”
The government release touts the advantages of the program: “Behavioral sciences can be used to help design public policies that work better, cost less, and help people to achieve their goals…the (Behavioral Insights) team would ‘experiment’ with various techniques, with the goal of tweaking behavior so people do everything from saving more for retirement to saving more in energy costs. Anyone interested in working for the White House in a ‘nudge’ squad? The UK has one and it’s been extraordinarily successful.”
The program cites benign examples of its intentions. But White House inspired behavioral modification experimentation won’t stop at cajoling us to save more for our old age. It is less about helping people achieve their goals than it is to help The Lyin’ King’s regime to achieve its goals. In this, the British government was far more honest. Quoting from the U.K.report: “In 2010, UK Prime Minister David Cameron commissioned the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), which through a process of rapid, iterative experimentation (“Test, Learn, Adapt”), has successfully identified and tested interventions that will further advance priorities of the British government, while saving the government at least £1 billion within the next five years…” Among the U.K.’s concerns were to get tax payers to fork over 30 million pounds of extra tax payments, which they did in three months. They also successfully convinced the public to take advantage of full-cost, government attic-clearance services. The British government realized a 500% increase in the purchase of their services and of attic-insulation. Evidence exists that the Lyin’ King’s power-hungry regime wouldn’t stop there.
Although the White House is painting its usual, self-serving picture, experts warn that there is nothing to stop government’s “we know best” snowball from turning into an avalanche. Michael Thomas, an economist at Utah State University, aired his concerns to FOX News: “Ultimately, nudging … assumes a small group of people in government know better about choices than the individuals making them. And sometimes… government actually promotes the wrong thing.” No kidding.
David Laibson, behavioral economics professor at Harvard University, is working with the government on the program. Laibson’s involvement in the program is right up The Lyin’ King’s alley; his verbal contortions outdo mountain switchbacks. First, Laibson states that “Every intervention would need to be tested to make sure (the program) works well…” Then Laibson added that the way the team will function is still unknown. Finally, Laibson “hopes the government will shy away from involving itself from controversial policies.” Well, Elvis certainly departed that auditorium ages ago. Laibson ends with a bang: “Let’s say we want people to engage in some healthy behavior like a weight loss program, and then start automatically enrolling overweight people in weight loss programs — even though they could opt out, I’m guessing that would be viewed as offensive …” Why assume one could “opt out”? Horrifyingly, Laibson believes it would be problematic not because of automatic enrollment but because “a lot of people would say, “…this is judging who I am and who I should be.”
FOX News ends with a cautionary note from Jerry Ellig, an economist with the Mercatus Center: “If you can keep it to a ‘nudge’ maybe it can be beneficial…but nudges can turn into shoves pretty quickly.” Mr. Ellig is dead wrong about a nudge from government being beneficial. A “nudge” from government is never beneficial to anyone except to government. We have almost five years of evidence of that.