Government 'Nudge' Team Aims to Influence Public Behavior

Tuesday, 30 Jul 2013 01:45 PM

By Melanie Batley

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The Obama administration is pulling together a "Behavioral Insights Team" to explore ways to encourage Americans to improve or change their behavior.

Examples of the so-called "nudge" program might include using commercials to convince people to save more for retirement, improve the energy efficiency of their homes, choose healthy eating habits, or sign up as organ donors, according to FoxNews.com.

Supporters of the "nudge" approach say there is value to using behavioral sciences to help achieve desirable social outcomes. The approach has already been tested with success in Britain, where the government managed to boost by 15 percent the responsiveness of late tax payers simply by running an ad that said 90 percent of people paid their taxes on time.

"Behavioral sciences can be used to help design public policies that work better, cost less, and help people to achieve their goals," said a document from the government describing the Behavioral Insights program, according to FoxNews.com.

The goal is to "nudge" people to make positive decisions instead of creating requirements or laws, a concept developed and popularized by a 2008 book.

But some are not convinced about the ethics of the approach. "I am very skeptical of a team promoting nudge policies," Michael Thomas, an economist at Utah State University, told FoxNews.com. "Ultimately nudging . . . assumes a small group of people in government know better about choices than the individuals making them."

Another economist wary of the program, Jerry Ellig from the Mercatus Center, put it like this: "If you can keep it to a 'nudge' maybe it can be beneficial, but nudges can turn into shoves pretty quickly."

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