Nudge: the dangers

Posted by on Aug 16, 2010 in behaviour change, Books, Current Affairs | No Comments

Nudge-nudge-monty-python-100

pic c/o Monty Python Fan page

Nice piece here by Peter Wilby about the fashionability of Thaler and Sunstein's book with centre-right politicians and policy wonks.

[Nudging aka] "Libertarian paternalism" bears the same theological relationship to Friedmanite economics…as intelligent design does to creationism. It strips out the demonstrably false aspects of the doctrine and gives it a makeover. After the the banking crisis, the belief that markets work perfectly was as unsustainable as the belief that God created the world in 4004 BC. Nudge comes to the rescue, proposing ways to make markets work better without directly interfering with them, still less peanlising those who grow rich from them.

Or, rather more bluntly,

…It argues that there's nothing wrong with markets only with people and the state's role is to make people fit for markets and not the other way about

Now whether you buy this [alleged] use of the insights that Behavioral Economics allows us, what's clear is that many folk are just using it as a sticking plaster or worse still, a cover for what they wanted to keep on doing anyway or keep on believing; it's far from the radical disruptive force for rethinking things that some (like my chum Rory) would have us believe.

As I've often argued before, the danger of BE is not that folk don't believe it or adopt it but rather that they just stop at the easy "aren't we humans a funny old bunch of faulty individual economic agents" analysis and don't take the bigger – and much braver – step into grasping the social stuff firmly…