Those Cows Left The Barn

I expect conservatives and libertarians to be exercised over the news that the White House is establishing a “Nudge Squad” – a group of behavioral scientists who will work with the government bureaucracy to try to help shape citizen behavior:

“Behavioral sciences can be used to help design public policies that work better, cost less, and help people to achieve their goals,” reads the government document describing the program, which goes on to call for applicants to apply for positions on the team.

The document was emailed by Maya Shankar, a White House senior adviser on social and behavioral sciences, to a university professor with the request that it be distributed to people interested in joining the team. The idea is that the 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.

The document praises subtle policies to change behavior that have already been implemented in England, which already has a “Behavioral Insights Team.” One British policy concerns how to get late tax filers to pay up.

On the one hand, it all sounds very Orwellian.  And it is; using the government to shape peoples’ behavior is a short and utterly undefineable step away from using it to shape peoples’ thought.

On the other hand?  Precisely what has the public education system been since its inception?

15 thoughts on “Those Cows Left The Barn

  1. It is Orwellian (although, in the Age of Obama, that word is getting worn out).

    It gets to the heart of the role of government. Do the people serve government or is government a tool to secure God-given rights so that a man can pursue his own happiness?

    We know where the founders of the American republic stood.

    We also know where Obama, marinated in Indonesian despotism, stands.

    This is the stuff of civil war.

    Where do you stand?

    (IRS, note my E-mail: I’m for the Tea Party, Patriots and the Constitution forever!)

    (I’m also for the Vikings.)

  2. Not sure how this is much different from the Food Pyramid, or Wear Your Seat Belt campaigns. Government does a myriad of things to influence behavior to achieve their goals.

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  4. Their goals or our goals, davethul?
    The State has no sovereignty of its own or legitimate interests of its own.

  5. The problem with ‘good intentions’ is that the outcome is generally bad for the people they are intended to help. Case in point – The Food Pyramid was created by the Nixon administration to get food prices down by encouraging more corn production and consumption. This led to cheaper beef, sweeteners and cereal. Now the US is significantly more obese due to the high consumption of simple carbohydrates. This was all backed up by SCIENCE! at the time. Of course they got a hand from BigAg in figuring out ways to convert corn – a cheaply grown commodity – into all these wonderful things.
    Another nudge – How many commercials do you hear on the radio about not driving and using your cell phone? It’s understandable about the dangers of texting and driving. But talking? I’m old so I remember when the only people that had cell phones (which either looked like the phone “Gordon Gekko” used in the movie ‘Wall Street” or were carried around in a bag – each cost $2,500 new) were rich “Captains of Industry” or other Senior Management types stealing their shareholders money. Now nearly everyone has one; many of those people talk on one while they are driving; and yet the accident rate has gone down significantly since the “Gekko” days. Yet the NTSB still runs announcements telling us how dangerous it is to drive and talk on the phone – Even With A Hands Free Device!!.
    I take my advice on listening to the Govt from the Native American people – “Pale Face (hey, take a look at the group shot of the Obama For America staff) speak with forked tongue”.

  6. Anyone who’s watched, read, or listened to commercials (private sector) has been subjected to similar tactics.

    Anyone who’s toilet-trained their child or their schnauzer has practiced them.

    Behaviorism is probably the most effective, least time-consuming, and broadly understandable theories of psychology.

    I hate to credit the current administration with something so commonplace but potentially effective. Fortunately, Washington DC’s attempts at practicing it are far more obvious and less effective (if you are paying attention) than are Madison Avenue’s.

  7. Mitch & Dave Thul have it right. The feds have been manipulating people since George Washington hung up his sword. And it hasn’t always been in the best interest of the public.

    Remember when people were encouraged to watch above ground nuc tests?

    Besides, if your kids are in public schools (shame on you), by the time they graduate, or were supposed to graduate, they are already members of the Spys.

  8. Combine “pathological altruism” with “tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims” and you get Edie Obama and the New Orwellians. They don’t mind being creepy, it’s for your own good, and they only shave a little off the top for their efforts.

  9. Seflores, you’re right about the Nixon administration supporting corn, but it was the “four food groups,” not the Clinton-era food pyramid.

    Off topic; the Mayo Clinic Diet takes the food pyramid and puts fruits and vegetables at the bottom and eliminates the distinction between dairy and meat, as they’re both mostly protein sources. Takes some chutzpah to do that when Rochester is surrounded by corn fields and dairy farms!

    Back on topic, my least favorite government indoctrination, besides the government schools of course, is the set of ads they run about speeding, seatbelt use, and drunken driving. Those of us who were bullied as kids (raises hand) have a very dim view of ads that basically bully the listener.

  10. All I’m saying is that I don’t think you can call this an Obama administration overreach since it’s been done for decades.

    It is a good example of how us conservatives forget our principles when in power. Whatever you want to nudge society into doing is fine by me, just don’t use the mechanism of government bureaucracy to do it.

  11. Don’t forget the most loathsome “anti-” campaign of all: smoking. It even allowed the children to actively participate in the stoning …

  12. It is not the job of the federal government to do what is best for us.
    If we the people organized sufficient numbers to call a constitutional convention, and revert the fed’s power to what it had been in the bad ol’ days of the articles of confederation, what authority could be used to oppose us? You know that they would — dems, republicans, all of the party of the Federal Government. From what point of view, other than self-interest, could they oppose this convention? “History” and “progress” have no constitutional authority. Abstract ideas about ‘justice’ have no constitutional authority (the word ‘justice’, as it appears in the constitution, refers only to the rule of law).

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