Thursday, December 4, 2008

To Nudge or not to nudge - UChannel podcast review

Legislators love to steer people's behavior. When I taught the sociology of law, I found myself repeatedly emphasize legal rules do not shape behavior and changing laws are the last means in policy making one should expect to affect how people act. Yet legislators keep making laws in order to, for example, steer the populace into not smoking, waste energy or eat unhealthy food.

If rules won't succeed and force is not an option (both morally and practically) what can be done? An answer can be heard in a UChannel podcast lecture on the technique of Nudge, delivered by Richard Thaler. Thaler explains nudge in general as well as in proposed examples. A known example is, if you want people to enter a pension plan, it is not going to help if you make a rule to force them, or make the option available. The proven way is to enroll them automatically, inform them and offer the possibility to opt out. Hardly anybody opts out. The general idea is to nudge people into the kind of behavior and decision pattern you prefer, which after all is not just a policy option, but rather also a marketing technique.

A more controversial example is the proposition to couple smoking to a permit. Smoking is to be allowed, but in order to be entitled to buy tobacco products one must have a permit. The permit can be easily obtained, even if it needs to be renewed every year. The idea is not to make smoking difficult, or illegal. The permit is not to draw fees or involve a bothersome bureaucracy. The idea is just that people who want to smoke, must make a conscious decision in advance. Expectation is that this will cause a more drastic fall of smoking stats than any other option. Somehow the example evokes a lot of resistance. I also wonder about fundamental legal and moral implications, but first of all am struck by a certain quality of nudge. It has a technology flavor to it. There is no dimension of proper persuasion and hardly any cognitive approach to it. It is all about efficacy.

More UChannel:
Hot, Flat and Crowded,
In 2050,
The Arab-Israeli Conflict,
Civilization and the Hills,
New World Order.

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