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Join the SBST Team: Neither nudge nor shove will stop us from improving your life (whether you are aware of it or not) in 2016 & beyond!

click me -- I need your attention!Wow, I got a cool email announcement about a "one year fellowship" position in the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST). 

The "Team's" mission is to use behavioral economics--primarily of the "nudge" variety--to steer people into making decisons that mesh better with one or another government program aimed at improving a variety of social and economic outcomes, from the proportion of peple obtaining higher education to the proportion of small businesses that keep afloat; from living a more healthy life to availing oneself of myriad govt benefits etc.

Interesting stuff.

But what struck me is the casual assumption that SBST is going to happily outlive the Obama Administration.

Obama is a classic "University of Chicago Democrat"--someone who substitutes for the old style passion of Neal Deal liberalism a cool confidence in technocratic management strategies, many of which tweak but don't fundamentally question "private orderings" as a means of promoting collective wellbeing (distributional justice, an aim of the old-style New Deal Democrat liberalism just as fundamental as collective well-being, has shrunk in importance to near invisibility in the U of C Democratic program).

This is Cass Sunstein's liberalism, not John Kenneth Galbraith's, much less Ted Kennedy's!

But the vision of U of C Democrats is if anything even more obnoxious to the "Chicago School"  neo-liberals and the dyed-in-the-wool social conservatives that cohabit, albeit often uneasily, in the Republican Party.

U of C Democrats say, "hey, we are not only going to take back some share of the profits you've made by exploiting public goods ('you didn't build that!') but we're going to do so with 'strategies' that bypass your reason, so you don't really notice & fail, as a result of 'bounded rationality', to contribute your fair share."

It's hard to think of a program more likely to make the descendants of Hayek & Ayn Rand (what a weird marriage! & what a weird brood of offspring!) see red(s)!

That's one of things that makes the "Fellowship" so damn interesting!

"One year, beginnign in October 2016," you say...

The basis for the "SBST" is an Obama Executive Order that directs all executive agencies to "identify policies, programs, and operations where applying behavioral science insights may yield substantial improvements in public welfare, program outcomes, and program cost effectiveness" and " develop strategies for applying behavioral science insights to programs and, where possible, rigorously test and evaluate the impact of these insights."

To implement this directive, the Nudge Order directs the SBST (also created by the Obama White House) to issue "agencies ... advice and policy guidance to help them execute policy objectives.

This "Nudge Order" (let's call it that; snappier than "Executive Order--Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People") seems to be patterned on the Reagan Executive Order that mandated all executive agencies (only a fraction, actually of the agencies that have been authorized by Congress to engage in significant regulatory activity) submit their proposed regulations to the Office of Management & Um... are those "scrubbing bubbles"?...Budge for "cost benefit analysis."

Decried at the time by traditional New Deal Liberal Democrats, U of C Democrats actually have really grown to like that Reagan order a lot & even proposed extending it!

But I have a feeling that the next President, if he or she is a Republican, isn't going to reciprocate the love when it comes to Obama's "Nudge Order."

Pretty clear, I think, that neither a President Trump nor a President Cruz--both of whom seem to look to a very different source for their "strategies" for "managing" public opinion-- would have much use for the Nudge Order or the apparatus that carries it out.

But I doubt that a President Fiorina, a President Rubio, a President Bush, a President Christie, a President Carson, or a President Paul would either. (I'm sure I'm forgetting somebody-- but who has the memory capacity to keep track of all of them?)

I don't know what a President H.R. Clinton would think--but I would note that President W.J. Clinton was the first & remains the model U of C Democrat President

I know for sure what President Sanders would do w/ the Nudge Order and SBST--and well before Oct. 2017.

So, this is a cool position -- not only b/c the normal job description is interesting but b/c it's certain to be interesting to be "on hand" to witness the Nudge Order "in transition."

Oh, but I've decided not to apply.  I like what I'm doing just fine!

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Reader Comments (2)

@Dan - Well, yes, I do see something a bit grotesque here.

But I do think we need to, in any efforts we make to improve the world, think how to craft incentives that are neither law-like (with fines of sentencing guidelines) nor Hayek's ideal of the utopia of completely spontaneous incentive structures.

In my comment to the previous article I gave an example of one that would not require government support -- it might emerge from universities and/or nonprofits like Wikipedia.

But not libertarian paternalism. Sunstein has a talent for coining phrases that are apt to turn people off. That and his "chilling effect", e.g. as if some fear of the power of nudging makes him want to put a warning label on it.

January 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterHal Morris


Well, I guess I evinced an "attitude" here about Nudges-Shoves. I suppose I have one. But I am genuinely curious to see what it's fate will be.

And for sure, any effort to perfect evidence-based policymaking is a positive thing.

What we really need, of course, is more evidence-based science communication; maybe the next president will issue an executive order that requires all agenies to submit to the OSTP or some other appropriate exeuctuivie entity a "science communication impact" assessment for any proposed policy

January 7, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

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