In a New Scientist op-ed, Henry Farrell and Cosma Shalizi take aim at the trendy idea of "nudging" people towards healthy, socially beneficial choices. The authors find the evidence for the effectiveness of nudging isn't supported by the literature, and policy-by-nudging misses the key to good governance: an informed citizenry who are part of the solution, not the problem to be solved.
This points to the key problem with "nudge" style paternalism: presuming that technocrats understand what ordinary people want better than the people themselves. There is no reason to think technocrats know better, especially since Thaler and Sunstein offer no means for ordinary people to comment on, let alone correct, the technocrats' prescriptions. This leaves the technocrats with no systematic way of detecting their own errors, correcting them, or learning from them. And technocracy is bound to blunder, especially when it is not democratically accountable.
As political scientist Suzanne Mettler, from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, argues, libertarian paternalism treats people as consumers rather than citizens. It either fails to tell people why choices are set up in particular ways, or actively seeks to conceal the rationale. When, for example, Obama's administration temporarily cut taxes to stimulate the economy, it did so semi-surreptitiously to encourage people to spend rather than save.
Mettler uses experiments to show how ordinary people can understand complicated policy questions and reach considered conclusions, as long as they get enough information. This suggests a far stronger role for democratic decision-making than libertarian paternalism allows. People should be given information, and allowed to reach conclusions about their own interests, and how to structure choices to protect those interests. By all means consult experts, but the dialogue should go both ways.
'Nudge' policies are another name for coercion
Scientists discovered this new species of “glass frog” in Ecuador’s Amazon lowlands. Hyalinobatrachium yaku’s belly is so transparent that you can clearly see its kidneys, bladder, and beating heart. From Science News: Yaku means “water” in Kichwa, a language spoken in Ecuador and parts of Peru where H. yaku may also live. Glass frogs, like […]
Jennifer Raff — a bioanthropologist and geneticist who researches and teaches at U Kansas and U Texas — provides some excellent advice and context on how to read a scientific paper, from figuring out which papers and journals are worthy of your attention to understanding the paper in its wider context in the relevant field.
Apple released this lovely new commercial featuring Carl Sagan reading from his magnificent 1994 book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, now available as an audiobook. This surprising partnership spurred Adweek to interview my friend Ann Druyan, Sagan’s wife, collaborator, and creative director of the Voyager Golden Record, about being […]
Learning a new language will give your resume an upgrade, sure, but it will also provide a huge cognitive boost for mental tasks outside of translation and conversation. Bilingual brains have been shown to be better at handling multiple concurrent tasks, and gaining fluency in a new tongue is an amazing way to improve memory, […]
If you struggle to get a good night’s rest, consider replacing your pillows before dropping hundreds on a new mattress. You can give your tired neck a break with a 2-pack of memory foam pillows, available now in the Boing Boing Store.Each of these pillows is stuffed with cooling polyurethane foam that molds to your […]
Although flagship smartphones are unlikely to adopt heavy-duty outer casing anytime soon, you can always prepare your device for the outdoors with a beefy case and and an external battery like this Nomad Tile Trackable PowerPack, available in the Boing Boing Store for $119.95.The Nomad Tile can fully recharge an iPhone 7 over three times […]