Friday, September 5, 2014

Nudge: A War on Moral Judgement

By Frank Furedi

Social scientists sometimes have an irritating habit of devoting a lot of resources and time to the rediscovery of the blindingly obvious. It is in this vein that Cass R Sunstein’s Why Nudge? boasts of the brilliant insights of behavioural economists who have ‘discovered’ that people often take decisions about their life that contradict their individual interests or aims. Throughout Why Nudge?, this unremarkable insight – well known to most mature adults – is presented as an amazing game-changing discovery.

The reader is constantly reminded that ‘behavioural findings’ show that ‘people make a lot of mistakes, some of which can prove extremely damaging’. People are sometimes short-sighted and, apparently, ‘procrastination, inertia, hyperbolic discounting and associated problems of self-control’ create all kinds of adverse outcomes for people. We are also informed that human beings make erroneous choices which ‘fail to promote their own ends’. Sunstein appears to revel in highlighting the different manifestations of the ‘human propensity to err’. He characterises what were formerly perceived as human weaknesses and poor choices as behavioural market failures. The purpose of this term is to draw an analogy with the economic concept of market failure. Why? Because just as market failures serve as the justification for the state regulation of economic life, so behavioural market failures serve as the justification for the state regulation of people’s personal lives.

There is something quasi-religious about the use of behavioural economics to indict people for failing to make the kind of choices approved by the author and his expert colleagues.

Read the rest here.

1 comment:

  1. After reading this, I feel like I need a Silkwood shower. Sunstein uses the term "libertarian paternalism" in the title of his book. What an Orwellian abuse of language. There is a strange, almost medicated aspect to his deranged control fantasies. The guy is a walking psyop.