April 8th, 2008

Nudge Till They Budge

Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, both from Chicago, have a new book out: Nudge.

D. Stuart gives a nice summary:
They call their viewpoint `libertarian paternalism' and what they argue is that it would be a good thing for some gentle nudging of the citizenry in the right direction. As Thaler said recently in the New York Times: "In light of human limitations, Cass Sunstein and I argue for policies that we call libertarian paternalism. Although the phrase sounds like an oxymoron, we contend that it is often possible to design policies, in both the public and private sector, that make people better off -- as judged by themselves -- without coercion. We oppose bans; instead, we favor nudges."
"Libertarian paternalism."  The mind boggles.

"In light of human limitations..."   Ah.  So my mind is boggling because it suffers from human limitations!

Somehow I'm reminded of a phrase from Ayn Rand: "Have Gun, Will Nudge".

Human reason's faulty -
It's been proven in a test!

So people fail to follow
What I know is best.

We need to nudge them gently
So they don't feel too oppressed.

We'll keep the guns well hidden,
But they'll do as we suggest.

Microbes Made Me Do It!

You may have thought that individualism and collectivism had something to do with philosophy...  But no!  It has to do with germs!
Societies that evolved in places with an abundance of pathogens, they argue, had to adopt behaviors that add up to collectivism, for reasons of sheer preservation. Societies that arose in places with fewer pathogens had the luxury of individualism, which is less effective at limiting the spread of disease but brings with it other social benefits, such as innovation.
On the other hand, maybe collectivists, huddled into a mob, are naturally germy.
Just the thought of all that breathing all over each other makes me feel squirmy.