Reckon the whole Nudge thing is old news, but it really struck a chord today.
I was listening to Glenn Beck during my jog. Cass Sunstein was the topic. Audio was recently discovered, in which Sunstein promoted the idea of internet site linking to opposing views, voluntarily or by mandate if necessary. Pat or Stu (I can’t tell the difference between them, sorry) explained, tongue in cheek, that Mr. Sunstein doesn’t want to mandate any particular behavior. He prefers “altering the choice structure.”
Altering the choice structure. I’m well familiar with that technique. As the mom to two young boys, I’m a pro. Long ago I dubbed it “The Illusion of Choice” (draw out the letter “u” when you say it: “the illoooooh-sion of choice”).
Here’s how it works. Want to leave the park or the birthday party in 15 minutes with minimum fuss? Ask your child, “Are you ready to leave now, or do you want me to give you another 15 minutes of playtime?” “Fifteen more minutes!” he will quickly respond.
Plan to serve a vegetable at dinner, about which your child usually moans? Pair it with a vegetable he hates even more, and ask: “Do you want the brussel sprouts, or the spinach?” “Spinach!” he will quickly choose.
It’s the illooooooh-sion of choice! And it works a charm. They don’t even realize what I’m doing.
Do you see my next point? (Really, comment and let me know ‘cuz I’m curious.)
The Illusion of Choice is a tactic a parent uses on her child, to manipulate him into complying with the very thing he would normally resist. Perfectly appropriate for a parent to use this slick little trick on her child.
But is this the way adults should treat other adults?
‘Course not. It is not based on mutual respect. It does not acknowledge the inherent right of an adult to make his own choices, good or bad.
“Choice architecture” is simply a form of parenting. Paternalism. As a recent New York Times article on Sunstein puts it,
“behavioral economists have replaced the rational actor in economic models with an often befuddled character — bedeviled by impulses and sentiments, overwhelmed by choice.”
So, this befuddled man should be guided. Nudged by those who know which choice is best. Like me: the mom who knows her son should leave the park soon, and eat some spinach.
This is a real problem, people. Alarms should be going off in your head. Robots, with arms flailing, should be repeating “Danger, Will Robinson!” Because Cass Sunstein, head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wants to treat you like his child. And people out there agree with him.
That New York Times article quoted above is certainly enamoured:
“Many innovative ideas — among them, some of the corrections proposed by behavioral economics — are still hypotheses. Like Sunstein, their brilliance comes with speculation, and it comes with whimsy.”
This blog on Social Capital is favorable as well (whatever the devil “social capital” is):
Even this intelligent blog, which does criticize Sunstein and the New York Times article, still seems guilty of taking the guy too seriously.
Libertarian paternalism. An oxymoron if I ever heard one.