If you thought you could think on your own, think again. The federal government is now forming Behavioral Insights Teams (BIT), also referred to as Nudge Squads. Their purpose: manipulate the public to agree with federally approved agendas. Instead of the person deciding what is best, the federal government will “nudge” the person’s behavior to coincide precisely with its plans.
Former Obama regulatory czar Cass Sunstein and the University of Chicago’s Prof. Richard Thaler coined the term “nudge” in a book with the same title. The work advocates what it calls behavioral insights teams (BIT). The authors feel strongly that if the government were to implement BIT strategies, informed by its bureaucrat-conceived objectives, all would fare better and somehow this would be more efficient—for the government. This idea is packaged as if it was for the common good to deal with such problems as ill-advised investments, eating unhealthy foods and wasting natural resources. This may sound good at first glance until you see where you are being nudged.
BITs supposedly demonstrate how sensible “choice architecture” can successfully nudge people in the right direction and toward the best decisions. Of course, accepting nudge squads to provide the answer to your personal problems is based on the premise that government is absolute and all knowing. This is promoted by the very same people that have a problem with the infallibility of the Pope or the Divine mandate set forth in the Ten Commandments.
As a matter of fact, Thaler cannot imagine why anyone would be opposed to a nudge squad. He states harshly that “I don’t know who those people are who would not want such a program, but they must either be misinformed or misguided. The goal is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government by using scientifically collected evidence to inform policy designs.”1
The all-controlling nudge squad utopia is nothing new. Nineteenth century political philosopher and economist Frederic Bastiat lambasted political writers and the politicians of his day. “These socialist writers look upon people in the same manner that the gardener views his trees. Just as the gardener capriciously shapes the trees into pyramids, parasols, cubes, vases, fans and other forms, just so does the socialist writer whimsically shape human beings into groups, series, centers, sub-centers, honeycombs, labor corps and other variations.”2
Government is a necessary institution that plays a fundamental and irreplaceable role in providing for the common good. However, its role is not to micromanage its citizens with nudge squads.
Everyone should be alarmed at the thought of a government that considers using behavioral sciences to manipulate individuals into conforming to its policy. Where is the guarantee that this will not be used for an evil agenda? Where the line between a nudge and a shove? Until there are sound answers to these and other questions, all should be wary of nudge squads.