:: Thursday, August 01, 2013 ::
Nudging Us to Serfdom
Posted by Edward Cline at 4:50 PM
One may say of that human
poltergeist, Cass Sunstein, even though he left the Obama administration for
the elitist fields of academic Elysium, "He's back…."
On January 30th,
Maxim Lott of Fox
federal government is hiring what it calls a "Behavioral Insights
Team" that will look for ways to subtly influence people's behavior,
according to a document describing the program obtained by FoxNews.com. Critics
warn there could be unintended consequences to such policies, while supporters
say the team could make government and society more efficient.
Lost on all these advisors
and bureaucrats is the truism that the most "efficient" society is a free one – not what they have in mind at
all. An "efficient" society, if the notion has any meaning at all, is
one in which the element of initiated force is morally absent from human
relationships. Initiated force, whether physical or in terms of fraud or
indirect force, in an "efficient" society would be treated as a crime.
consequences" can only mean the expansion of government power over
everyone's lives, and in every instance of expansion it has caused deleterious consequences
in society itself. Most of these consequences are either intended, viewed as
"good," or remain unacknowledged by our de facto wardens. For example,
the 16th Amendment (and its Civil War and Reconstruction Era
predecessors), sanctioning a tax on private incomes, has grown from one that
was a mere single digit percentage of private income of all kinds, to over 80%
of it if one doesn’t have a pricy tax attorney or CPA to juggle the books and
take advantage of a mare's nest of loopholes, exemptions, and special categories. The
federal income tax code has swollen from 400 pages to nearly 74,000
pages – and counting.
The Environmental Protection
Agency grew from the hippie ecology movement of the early 1960's to a federal
behemoth with fiat powers to seize, destroy, and regulate all kinds of
property, employing some 17,000 persons and uncounted independent contractors.
It was a Republican, Richard Nixon, who signed it into existence in 1970. Picture him wearing a Zodiac headband, a
scraggly beard, and a tie-dyed T-shirt with a "Peace" button pinned
Equally true is the notion
that an "efficient" government should feared by all not in the government. An efficient
government, shorn of all its inherent, bureaucratic ineptness and natural
lassitude, would have the lethal speed and instinct of an annoyed rattlesnake
or a king cobra.
Inefficient governments give
Americans room to breathe and act.
If it weren’t for that
breathing space, nothing would be produced or accomplished. In a mixed economy
such as ours, it is the relatively unregulated and unpoliced portion of it
which, by default, sustains the rest. Command economies are stagnant, and are
sustained only by the relatively freer but mixed economies beyond a nation's
borders. Mixed economies are doomed to fail, as well, obeying the law of
diminishing returns and ending up as command economies, and ultimately
collapse. Mixed economies also ultimately become authoritarian régimes or dictatorships.
This is a phenomenon we are witnessing now under the aegis of Barack Obama.
The federal government's
"nudge" program proposal continues:
sciences can be used to help design public policies that work better, cost
less, and help people to achieve their goals," reads the government
document describing the program, which goes on to call for applicants to apply
for positions on the team.
The only legitimate
"public policy" of government should be the banning of initiated
force from men's relationships. All other "designed" policies must
employ force. By "cost" is meant taxpayer-funded,
and we all know that cost is the last thing on policy designers' minds. Once a
statist agency or bureaucratic budget is implemented, all it can do is grow and
work at a deficit, siphoning off money and energy that would otherwise be
devoted to producing tangible values.
Governments, after all, produce nothing, not
even the paper on which all the forms, studies, and regulatory diktats are
printed. Search a bureaucrat's or government employee's desk for something
produced by the government. You will find nothing, not a single paper clip or
pencil or blotter or computer. All these things and more are produced privately
and bought by the government.
Whose goals would be
achieved, and what goals would they be? Are they the goals of the multitudes of
Nurse Ratcheds in government? If the goals are personal or private, what
business has the government to help people achieve them?
document was emailed by Maya Shankar, a White House senior adviser on social
and behavioral sciences, to a university professor with the request that it be
distributed to people interested in joining the team. The idea is that the team
would "experiment" with various techniques, with the goal of tweaking
behavior so people do everything from saving more for retirement to saving more
in energy costs….
policies – which encourage behavior subtly rather than outright require it –
have come to be known as "nudges," after an influential 2008 book
titled "Nudge" [Nudge:
Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (with Richard H. Thaler, 2008)]
by former Obama regulatory czar Cass Sunstein and Chicago Booth School of
Business professor Richard Thaler popularized the term.
term "nudge" has already been associated with the new program, as one
professor who received Shanker's email forwarded it to others with the note:
"Anyone interested in working for the White House in a 'nudge squad? The
UK has one and it's been extraordinarily successful."
This is a prescription for a
society run by an army of Nurse Ratcheds. Maya Shankar is a wannabe Nurse Ratched. She wants
to make sure that you take your calming medication so you can be more easily
"nudged" in a behavioral direction deemed worthy by other clinical
psychologists and authorities in the pay of the government. If you don’t take
it voluntarily, she can recommend less pleasant ways of making you take it. By
force. After all, what's the point of designating a preferred behavior if no
one prefers it? People can be either fooled into conforming to it (it's called
" subtlety"), or forced to. Those are the only options a statist government
can and will offer.
Maya Shanker, standing in for
Cass Sunstein, and a mere senior
advisor to the deputy director of the Office of Science and Technology
Policy in the White House, is seeking ways for the government to
"encourage" people to conform to preferred behavior. After all, she
must exploit her Yale,
Oxford, and Stanford University degrees.
behavior" has she in mind? Whatever another Nurse Ratched pulling down a
federal paycheck wishes that behavior to be, or a behavior approved of or
frowned upon by a consensus of anonymous ciphers. In short, she is looking for
volunteers who will help nudge people into adopting or abandoning those
behaviors. But it looks more like a program angling for a purpose and Shankar
angling for a super-duper nurse's station.
Sunstein, now a professor at Harvard
Law School, would approve of Shankar's application and expansion of his
"people management" ideas, even though she is a Yale alumnus. In the
past I have written about Sunstein's hostility to freedom and especially to
freedom of speech ("Your Mild-Mannered
Speech Therapist" and "Cass
Sunstein: 'Czar in Wolf's Clothing"). He has exhausted my allotment of
words devoted to identifying him as a soft core tyrant and will say no more about
I have a project for Nurse
Shankar. How would she analyze the epistemology and metaphysics of someone who
was burdened with demonstrable behavioral problems, such as Adolf Hitler? After
all, Shankar did research into the topological theories of perception and
object representation and is alleged to have made several startling discoveries.
What conclusions would she reach, and what would she recommend? How would she
treat his obsession with Mickey Mouse?
Did he enjoy the Disney
humor, or was he fascinated by Mickey
the Magician's ability to wave a wand and make every wish of his come true?
Such as a Jew-free world, endless lebensraum
in Russia, and a healthy, strong, and racially pure Aryan race that out-bred
other ethnic groups, and especially non-Aryans of every racial variety?
How would she rate his
perception and object representation? Were they reality grounded, or wholly a
projection of his fantasies and wish fulfillment? And, above all, given her extensive
qualifications, she ought to be able to answer this crucial question: Did Hitler
identify with Mickey Mouse? Was he amused or depressed when Mickey failed, and
looked more like Bullwinkle
pulling everything but a rabbit out of his hat? Or would he persevere in his
own program to "nudge" his nation into Pax Germania?
And if he did, would she
recommend a program of subtle "nudges" so that he wouldn't become
such a bad person (as defined by the government), or dispense with the nudges
and just let him be?
I'm guessing she would recommend
letting him be. That's because she apparently shares a similar ambition: To
institutionalize and legitimize force with the fiat power of totalitarianism. If
she did not share such an ambition, she would not have a desk in the White
House. And especially not in Obama's White House.
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