Friday, February 11, 2011

Libertarian paternalism

In recent years, the idea that people are too thick to know what is in their best interests has influenced and shaped policymaking on both sides of the Atlantic. In one sense, this diagnosis of intellectual poverty among the masses is simply a new expression of an old idea. Nineteenth-century social engineers regarded the targets of their work - the masses - as both irrational and easily suggestible. In the twentieth century, psychologists and advertisers argued that the world would be a better place if they could successfully manipulate the public to act in accordance with the latest ‘scientific’ insights. They expressed their assumption of moral authority openly and with little concern for insulting people’s sensibilities.


Policy advisers frequently complain that citizens refuse to acknowledge the wisdom that they are offering and instead adopt forms of behaviour that are antithetical to expert advice. In effect, these policy advisers, along with government officials and politicians, have concluded that the time for open debate and argument is over, since arguing with people who act irrationally is pointless. They claim that what is now required are new techniques of behaviour management and motivational manipulation, in order to encourage the public to act in accordance with best practice.

That is why both the British and American governments have embraced the doctrine of ‘nudge’, as most explicitly espoused by the American academics Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. Relying on behaviour-management techniques, this doctrine, described as ‘libertarian paternalism’, aims to manipulate people into making choices which the powers-that-be consider ‘right’.

Read the whole thing.

This is a well-known childrearing technique. Instead of telling your kids what to do, you ask them if they want to do it, and often they will say yes by virtue of the fact that you're asking and making them feel like they have a say in the matter. When they actually don't. "Should we get dressed now?" might get a far better response than "get dressed!"

I thought this article was rather thought-provoking and I think people should be aware of these statist techniques.

Via: Free Canuckistan