Marketing Thought

Who Doesn’t Want Nudges And Competent Government?

The idea of nudging, structuring decisions to encourage people to make good choices, is surprisingly controversial. An example of a nudge might be to encourage those who are qualified to take up a social benefit or to get a tax break to do so. The nudge might be as simple as creating an easy to use application form. If you have a social benefit or tax break who could be against creating a form that is easy to use? Who Doesn’t Want Nudges And Competent Government?

Surprisingly Many People Don’t Want Nudges And Competent Government

Even those who politically don’t approve of the benefit or tax break surely don’t want to have it inefficiently administered. Rightwingers, who might dislike some government programs, simply get an expensive incompetent bureaucracy. Leftwingers, who might not approve of the specific tax break, simply get a tax break that is only received by richer people who can afford better accountants. If you are against any specific benefit or tax break it is surely better to try to get rid of the benefit. You surely should not hope it is administered in an incompetent fashion.

People Are Against The Other Side’s Nudges

Of course this is not what happens. Both left and right wing people can be against nudges if they hear that the other party proposed them. A series of experiments uncovered what people thought of nudging.

“In almost every case, respondents on the left of the political spectrum supported nudges when they were illustrated with a liberal agenda but opposed them when they were illustrated with a conservative one; meanwhile, respondents on the political right exhibited the opposite pattern.”

Fox and Tannenbaum, 2015.

To answer the question: who always wants nudges and a competent government? No one apparently.

Do You Want A Competent Government? Not If A Cat Suggested The Idea

In a democracy the other side wins occasionally, so let us try to design all polices a little better. Plus there are a lot of functions of government that most people agree on. Why not ensure the forms for applying for a passport are easy and that people who want to donate organs can do so with no unnecessary hassle?

Competent Policy Design

Some people may be creeped out by bureaucrats considering how they think when designing programs. But bureaucrats implicitly must have an idea how people will react whenever they design any program. The only question is whether they design it well or badly. At the risk of sounding controversial I’m for designing social programs well.

For more on public policy and nudging see here, here, and here.

Read: , (2015) The Curious Politics of the ‘Nudge’, The New York Times Sunday Review, September 26th, 2015.

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