9.15.2010

Nudge me one more time and I'll cut you, Sunstein (figuratively)

If you haven't heard of Cass Sunstein, you're obviously not watching any Glenn Beck. And in that case, you're probably going to disagree with the main premise of my argument/resistance here. But give it a listen:

Sunstein is the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In this role, Sunstein plans to bring his work on "behavioral economics" (oh, Euphemism, thy name is Bullshit) into practice.

Slate's website has a review/summary of Sunstein's book, co-authored with Richard Thaler, titled Nudge. "Nudging" has become hot lingo lately, and academics seem to like the idea. Slate says in the review:
Laissez faire economics holds that faced with a broad menu of choices, most of us will choose wisely.
This is flatly false. Let me reiterate: that's not true. Laissez faire economics doesn't recognize an objective/transcendent "wisdom," but allows that each individual might define and act-out wisdom in different ways. A strictly logical person might assume that anyone who has approached and/or gone through a postmodern-perspective ought to appreciate that, but alas... so here the philosopher kings show up, only this time they're talking not like Platonists, but like sophists. Out of one corner of their mouth, they talk about the need to respect cultural differences, to understand that there is no authoritative "Truth," etc. -- out of the other corner, they're disappointed that you're not making value judgments in the same way that they would.

Enter Cass Sunstein, endorsed and lauded by Obama & Co. Now as long as you prefer electric cars and arugula, Sunstein may not be much of a bother. But if, as Sunstein himself has spoken, you desire to occasionally let your inner Homer Simpson have his way--then watch out. You might be, ummm... "nudged," back toward making "wiser" choices. Wikipedia reports:
Sunstein (along with his coauthor Richard Thaler) has elaborated the theory of libertarian paternalism. In arguing for this theory, he counsels thinkers/academics/politicians to embrace the findings of behavioral economics as applied to law, maintaining freedom of choice while also steering people's decisions in directions that will make their lives go better. With Thaler, he coined the term "choice architect."
Yes, Cass Stein is going to let you choose--but he's going to, ummm... "nudge" you in the right direction. "Libertarian Paternalism" -- Oh, Euphemism, thy na... wait, I already used that one.

12 comments:

Wishydig said...

the arugula joke doesn't work. replace it with swiss chard.

Casey said...

You know what I've been eating? Kale, sauteed with garlic in olive oil. It's SO awesome, with any kind of rice and chickeny dinner... or even just by itself.

I don't know about swiss chard yet, because I'm trying to keep it real, man.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

I referred to Nudge in my Contemporary Rhetorics class Tuesday night. What I find interesting about the book is what often goes uncommented--that there is no way not to nudge. The very act of choosing how to arrange options already indicates a "nudging." There is no neutral arrangement.

Casey said...

Wrangler: I disagree with that. I think a Constitution of Laws and no government intervention into markets would provide no nudges. The outcome would be all sorts of inequality, but that's another issue.

Or are you saying that even in my scenario things like "prices" are nudges? In that case, then, I guess I just prefer an impersonal dynamic like the market to the conscience of Cass Sunstein or Elizabeth Warren.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Rather than abstract forms of economic government, think in more grounded forms. When setting up employee healthcare, is it better to have them choose to enroll or auto-enroll them?

Here's another example from the book written up in a review over at the Harvard Law School:

Consider, for example, an energy use study involving three hundred households in San Marcos, California. When all of the households were informed about how much energy they and their neighbors had used in previous weeks, the above-average energy users significantly decreased their consumption. What’s more, when their usage reports included a frowning-face emoticon, their subsequent energy use went down even more. Conversely, a smiling emoticon seemed to prevent under-users from feeling that they were entitled to use more.

Here's another example of a daily nudge- when you buy gasoline with a credit card, the machine will force you to lie, by asking you "Is this a debit card?" If you want to run it as a credit card, then you are forced to fib and answer "no" (even though it is both a debit credit card). This is a slight nudge, so that the gas company doesn't have to pay the 3% to the credit card company.

And, by the way, the enforcement of law requires governmental interaction--and every form of interaction is an intervention (just as every revelation of being is a betrayal of the infinite). Just saying.

Casey said...

But see how that example of the energy users implies an idea society where all neighbors use precisely the same amount of energy?

Now there's nothing inherently bad about such a vision -- but I'd like to have the conversation before having the conversation about whether nudging that outcome is the proper means. In other words, "nudging" seems like a means to ends that we haven't settled on yet. Or at least: that I haven't settled on.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

The ideal here isn't reducing everyone to "the same." Rather, it is taking less from the planet. Energy is a finite resource--and, as Bill Readings once wrote, "enlightenment has its costs."

Casey said...

You people who want to "reduce energy consumption" in an effort to save the earth are just like heroin addicts who want "to cut back a little" so they don't "go overboard." When you stop using combustion engines and electricity, then talk to me about regulating my energy consumption. I'm trying to hit rock bottom, man. You're pulling the breaks on me halfway down the first drop on this rollercoaster.

:)

Casey said...

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100054012/global-warming-is-dead-long-live-er-global-climate-disruption/

Casey said...

If I had known that reading Orwell-style dystopian novels when I was 18 would precede actually living in such dystopias, I would've read something else.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

This is the stupidest fucking shit you have ever written on a computer, transmitted to the world through a broadband connection:

You people who want to "reduce energy consumption" in an effort to save the earth are just like heroin addicts who want "to cut back a little" so they don't "go overboard." When you stop using combustion engines and electricity, then talk to me about regulating my energy consumption. I'm trying to hit rock bottom, man. You're pulling the breaks on me halfway down the first drop on this rollercoaster.

Casey said...

Stupid?--you have to at least appreciate the lyricism there, the imagery!