Obama’s Brave New World is one step closer to becoming a reality.
On Tuesday, 15 September, POTUS signed an Executive Order which proposes to use “Behavioral Science” specifically, Behavioral Economics and Psychology, to learn how people make decisions and act on them so government policy can be better designed to serve the American People. This order is the end result of a policy proposal from 2013 entitled “Strengthening Federal Capacity for Behavioral Insights”.
The most troubling aspect of this proposal was Obama’s creation of a“Social and Behavioral Science Team” (or the “Nudge Brigade” as they are unofficially called by DC Watchdog groups). This covert “brigade” which consist of a collection of varied disciplines such as psychology, behavioral economics, and other decision sciences, are conveniently joined together to help improve federal programs and operations. The following quote from the White House blog gives some illumination on the specific direction and groups of individuals that were being experimented on with this new behavioral science initiative.
“SBST had a successful first year, launching a wide variety of evidence-based pilots with objectives ranging from connecting veterans with employment and educational counseling benefits to helping struggling student borrowers understand their loan repayment options.”
To the casual observer, these government-initiated “Nudge Programs“ may seem just like another bureaucratic waste of time, but, in fact, the aim of these programs is to do much more than just save Uncle Sam a buck. It is, in fact, to “tinker” and manipulate the way information is distributed and displayed to the general public. The SBST found that changing how people engage with choices (i.e., “nudging” them in a certain direction), can reduce those mental imperfections and consequently greatly affect their decision-making process. The SBST is continuing to explore through human experimentation how that insight can improve government activities and operations in the years to come.
The science is very simple to understand: human beings are imperfect. We procrastinate. We avoid making difficult choices when we can. Some of us get confused and discouraged by complex government forms. Some don’t take the time to weigh important decisions thoroughly. And because of all of these very common human imperfections, the Presidential Order suggests in very clear language, that government agencies consider how the “[p]resentation and number of options presented can most effectively promote public welfare.” In other words, don’t give the public too many choices in filling out forms for government assistance and programs, as most Americans are lazy, confused and are just not smart enough on their own to choose correctly. The Nanny State is now officially in the “nudging” business.
The brain trust behind this endeavor are two behavioral scientists: University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler and Harvard law school professor Cass Sunstein. What’s most troubling about these two, is in their 2008 book “Nudge” both argued that government policies can be designed in a way that nudges citizens towards certain behaviors and choices. One does not have to be a brain surgeon to figure out that the word “nudge” as it’s used here is nothing but a subtle euphemism for the utilization of techniques involving advanced psychological behavioral suggestion and subtle, yet progressive, psychological modification on unknowing American citizens.
Of course, Obama administration officials weren’t the first to think of this novel ideal, nor were they the first to experiment with it. In 2010, British Prime Minister David Cameron Commissioned the Behavioral Insights Team to conduct a very similar study as the SBST recently conducted in Washington. Though innocuous and highly “scientific” sounding, the BIT website unabashedly describes their primary purpose in very simple terms:
“We use insights from behavioral science to encourage people to make better choices for themselves and society.”
Just as Orwell’s “Thought Police” created “Newspeak” in his novel 1984 to attempt to eliminate personal thought by restricting the expressiveness of the human language, so does the “Nudge Brigade” attempt to restrict the basic human condition of imperfection by both subliminal and overt suggestion. Seeking better efficiency for government programs and business is one thing, but attempting to change and minimize mental imperfection is quite another
So ultimately, all of this begs the question: Is Uncle Sam doing this to improve how government operates and, by consequence, improving the American standard of living, or is this an experiment to influence Americans to the will of Big Brother?