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Should the government nudge it's citizens into making smart choices?

Debate Information

In recent years, we have seen a dramatic shift towards right-wing economic theories in the US by both major political parties. The economic right prefers free markets, limited government intervention, private enterprise, large business, personal property, and oppose public works. However, this trend has hit a turning point where people are giving more support for left-wing economic policy in response to massive wealth inequality, political and social disparity, police infringement on rights, and institutional inequities. Left-wing economies prefer public works and infrastructure as a means of boosting development and promoting public health, which is typically achieved through wealth distribution.

One emerging set of actions which might be taken by the government is "nudging" popularized by Richard Thaler which is to set soft policies and construct systems to encourage people to take actions that are in their own best interest without necessarily forcing them to do anything. These policies are based on behavioral economics, which demonstrate that the rational economies championed by previous theories are insufficient to explain certain conditions in the markets that would otherwise be considered irrational. The irrational behaviors are caused by quirks in human psychology, and include things like loss-aversion and taking increased situational risk. Nudging doesn't involve any kind of mandate, such that the things that it suggests are not required in any way.

Examples include putting subtle emotional language in letters, for example "Most people pay there taxes on time" or "Only a minority of people fail to pay their taxes" can boost compliance by making people feel left out and has virtually no overhead cost, since the letters are being sent anyways.

Another example of nudging would be to give organ donation automatic enrollment, for which individuals would be given the option to opt-out. In this way if someone doesn't want to be an organ donor they still have the option so there freedoms are not violated, but most people are lazy and if they have to take action to opt out they will not do it.

There are also simple design choices that can greatly influence people's behavior. For example, placing signs around dog parks showing how much waste must be cleaned up per year can encourage pet owners to clean up Fido's messes, instead of putting signs which directly ask people to do so. The idea is to tap into people's guilt to try and convince them to comply with city ordinances, without physical coercing people to do anything.

It is possible that nudging could be used to promote economic growth by encouraging entrepreneurship, or promote peace and civility through intentional design choices and subtle action. 

Opponents of nudging complain that nudging is manipulative and coercive, and insist that libertarian paternalism is an oxymoron. Since nudging is a relatively new set of ideas, it has yet to be shown how effective it is, or if it can enable government overreach by subtly changing public opinion.

Should nudging be utilized by governments to encourage it's citizens to make smart choices without necessarily forcing them, or should we reject behavioral sciences in public policy?
AmericanFurryBoy
At some point in the distant past, the universe went through a phase of cosmic inflation,
Stars formed, planets coalesced, and on at least one of them life took root.
Through a long process of evolution this life 
developed into the human race.
Humans conquered fire, built complex societies and advanced technology .

All of that so we can argue about nothing.



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  • WinstonCWinstonC 209 Pts   -   edited July 2020
    First of all, I'd like to take up some small issues with your characterization of the economic left and right. For one, I do not believe that the economic right prefers large business to small business. Also, on the economic left, political and social disparity could not be said to be economic issues, nor is police infringement of rights (and moreover I'd say that police infringement of rights is not a left-right issue but a libertarian/authoritarian issue).

    As for "nudging", there is a big difference between the first two examples. The first example of using language differently is merely using a social influence technique; appealing to people's natural instinct to conform. The second example of organ donation means that, as you put it, "freedoms are violated" unless the person knows about the opt-out. In other words, if you are ignorant, your "freedoms are violated". The third example is again merely manipulating people's desire to conform. Now, personally, I do not like the idea of manipulating people's desire to conform and I feel that such a path might lead us astray. However this is not in the same category of, for example, forced organ donation for those who are ignorant of the program (and a great deal of people are ignorant of these programs). An example of such an opt-out program of which you may not be aware is that in the UK your medical information is shared with third parties by default unless you opt out.
  • DeeDee 4773 Pts   -   edited July 2020
    Sounds good to me , when I was a child in my country most people threw litter on the roads and streets  now barely anyone does and it was through a campaign of what could be termed nudging , another example ten years ago dogs used to crap on the pavement and no one batted an eyelid , now one sees people ( mostly ) cleaning up as they walk their dogs on account of the dangers of dog crap  after a clever campaign pointed out the damage to a child from close contact with such and nudging used to persuade citizens and it worked 
    Happy_Killbot
  • Happy_KillbotHappy_Killbot 5327 Pts   -  
    @WinstonC ;
    Just to clarify, in the case of organ donation people are given the opportunity to opt-out at the same time that in our current system people are given the opportunity to opt-in. I never said "freedoms are violated" I said " "freedoms are not violated".

    This is off topic, but right-wing economies do tend to favor big business because in a free market, small businesses tend to get bought up by larger ones. In addition, the majority of tax cuts supposedly there to promote economic growth go to the largest corporations.

    Social disparity is an economic issue by definition, because it is about inequities in socioeconomic status across race, gender, or identity. Same with police brutality, because it unfairly effects the poor.
    AlofRI
    At some point in the distant past, the universe went through a phase of cosmic inflation,
    Stars formed, planets coalesced, and on at least one of them life took root.
    Through a long process of evolution this life 
    developed into the human race.
    Humans conquered fire, built complex societies and advanced technology .

    All of that so we can argue about nothing.
  • MayCaesarMayCaesar 4676 Pts   -   edited July 2020
    I would love to live on that amazing planet on which there has been a "dramatic shift towards free markets in recent years"! Or to have a life expectancy large enough that I could consider events of 250 years ago "recent years". Alas, I only have Earth to work with, and my fragile body that will, probably, be gone before 2100.

    On your question, no, I do not think this is what the government is supposed to do. The government exists to defend individual rights; there is no other reason for it to be present. It does not exist to guarantee favorable outcomes for people. The government is a guardian, not a warlord; it is an advisor, not a tutor; it is a judge, not a lawyer; it is a school building, not a school teacher. It should provide a legal framework in which individuals can interact however they see fit and pursue any outcomes they want; it should not actively interfere in the process of this interaction.

    That said, I would obviously strongly prefer soft nudging to hard regulations. If I am not mandated by law to pay taxes, but the government puts banners everywhere telling me that "decent people pay taxes", then great! I am not interested in being decent in the eyes of the governmental bureaucrat, and I will safely ignore this soft nudging. :)

    I do not smoke cigarettes not because of warnings and scary images on cigarette packs, but because I know well from a bit of research that cigarettes are bad for me. But, perhaps, some people are unable to make this conscious choice, and they need subconscious reminders for that. It is a lesser evil than outright ban or heavy taxes on cigarettes; it is still somewhat evil, as it is done by means of spending public funds, but it is not as big of a deal as some think.
    As long as it is confined to limited domains and does not spread into domains in which strong conflict of interests occurs, such as promotion of various ideologies, it is not something I would vehemently object to.
  • Happy_KillbotHappy_Killbot 5327 Pts   -  
    @MayCaesar ;
    Both major political parites in the US support right-wing economies, the Republicans through corporatism and the Democrats through neo-liberalism. Although the media would have us believing otherwise, inside congress there are rarely disputes on how the economy should be ran, with only a small number of outliers taking most of the credit.

    Nudging isn't a process of active interaction. Since people don't have free will, you don't need to actively force them to do what is best for them because the decisions they make are based on their environment and psychology. In fact, I would take it a step further.

    Everyone who has ever succeeded, by whatever definition of that word they use, did so not because of their personal choices, but rather because their environment prompted decisions based on their psychology. Although it is largely out of our reach, these states are predictable and can be understood. There is no such thing as a self-made millionaire because whatever happened to make them a millionaire is entirely out of their control, including what one might describe as their personal actions. The same applies to criminals and ordinary citizens.

    A government that merely defends the rights of individuals can not stand to one that deliberately engineers and manufactures complicity into it's design, because the former is entirely driven by blind unabated luck, and the latter deliberately promotes the luck of it's citizens. Technically anyone can ignore this design, but they do so at the expense of everyone else. For failing to comply, they will be punished by society because everyone else has to carry the burden of their ignorance.

    This is why I no longer can consider myself a true libertarian, because I recognize that libertarianism only works when people have the option to completely avoid each other and nobody has to accept consequences for the actions of others. This is virtually impossible in our modern civilized world. Maybe someone doesn't want to be forced to clean up after their dog and believes this violates their freedom, but I would support a "manipulative" sign that costs the community next to nothing, just so I don't have to step in someone else's dog's mess.
    DeeJustAnAllMightFan
    At some point in the distant past, the universe went through a phase of cosmic inflation,
    Stars formed, planets coalesced, and on at least one of them life took root.
    Through a long process of evolution this life 
    developed into the human race.
    Humans conquered fire, built complex societies and advanced technology .

    All of that so we can argue about nothing.
  • WinstonCWinstonC 209 Pts   -  
    @Happy_Killbot To clarify, in case there is any confusion, the meat of my disagreement with governments' "nudge teams" is not with the use of social influence techniques as in example 1 and 3 of the OP. Rather it is with opt-out systems, which I view as an entirely different phenomena to the use of social proof to increase compliance. You seem to have understood this but re-reading my post it's a little unclear.

    "Just to clarify, in the case of organ donation people are given the opportunity to opt-out at the same time that in our current system people are given the opportunity to opt-in."

    If you die unexpectedly this isn't the case. An even better example would be the case of opt-out medical data sharing in the UK, most people do not even know that it's happening.

    "I never said "freedoms are violated" I said " "freedoms are not violated"."

    No, I know, but what I mean is that you were saying that freedoms are not violated due to the fact that people are given the opportunity to opt out. In my estimation, this implicitly means that freedoms are violated if the person is not given the opportunity to opt out. The issue I was raising is that if you do not know about the opt out and you die your organs will be taken. In other words, it's not that opt-out systems give people free choice, it gives free choice only to those who are not ignorant of the opt-out system.

    "This is off topic, but right-wing economies do tend to favor big business because in a free market, small businesses tend to get bought up by larger ones. In addition, the majority of tax cuts supposedly there to promote economic growth go to the largest corporations."

    I see, so you mean that free market economics favors big business, which in turn is more of a right-wing position, that makes sense. On the other hand many regulations specifically lobbied for by large corporations are anti-competitive in nature but I digress.

    "Social disparity is an economic issue by definition, because it is about inequities in socioeconomic status across race, gender, or identity."

    Oh ok, so you mean socioeconomic disparity, my mistake, I thought you meant purely social disparities; the connections that people have.

    "Same with police brutality, because it unfairly effects the poor."

    I'd say that it unfairly effects whoever is being brutalized at the time. You had specifically said "police infringement on rights" so I thought that you were implying that right wingers were less inclined to care about such things, which I do not agree is the case.
  • DeeDee 4773 Pts   -   edited July 2020
    @Happy_Killbot

     Maybe someone doesn't want to be forced to clean up after their dog and believes this violates their freedom, but I would support a "manipulative" sign that costs the community next to nothing, just so I don't have to step in someone else's dog's mess.


    When people talk of ‘freedoms’ that does not mean their individual freedoms somehow entail a right to act the jerk without giving a care for fellow citizens, it asks a basic question as in which is more important in society the whole or its parts  of which it is comprised 

    I watched news footage from the U S two weeks ago where a group of people marched with placards and guns stating “ you won’t muzzle us “ and bellowing about freedom , no one is denying these idiots their freedom they are being asked to have a care for others , unfortunately this type of individual selfishness is making matters worse not better 
    Happy_Killbot
  • Should nudging be utilized by governments to encourage it's citizens to make smart choices without necessarily forcing them, or should we reject behavioral sciences in public policy?
    Pick a new word nudging is forcing. 
  • Happy_KillbotHappy_Killbot 5327 Pts   -  
    @WinstonC ;
    If you die unexpectedly this isn't the case. An even better example would be the case of opt-out medical data sharing in the UK, most people do not even know that it's happening.
    It doesn't work like that because you are not in the program until you take an action that gives you the opportunity to be in the program, i.e. getting a licence or certain medical procedures where someone asks you if you want to opt-out. Until you are asked if you want to opt-out you are not in the system.
    No, I know, but what I mean is that you were saying that freedoms are not violated due to the fact that people are given the opportunity to opt out. In my estimation, this implicitly means that freedoms are violated if the person is not given the opportunity to opt out. The issue I was raising is that if you do not know about the opt out and you die your organs will be taken. In other words, it's not that opt-out systems give people free choice, it gives free choice only to those who are not ignorant of the opt-out system.
    By that same logic, we could say the same thing about an opt-in policy? If people don't know they have to opt-in to organ donation programs does this mean they don't have the freedom to do so?
    At some point in the distant past, the universe went through a phase of cosmic inflation,
    Stars formed, planets coalesced, and on at least one of them life took root.
    Through a long process of evolution this life 
    developed into the human race.
    Humans conquered fire, built complex societies and advanced technology .

    All of that so we can argue about nothing.
  • Happy_KillbotHappy_Killbot 5327 Pts   -  
    @Dee ;
    I watched news footage from the U S two weeks ago where a group of people marched with placards and guns stating “ you won’t muzzle us “ and bellowing about freedom , no one is denying these idiots their freedom they are being asked to have a care for others , unfortunately this type of individual selfishness is making matters worse not better 
    This is specifically why nudging is such an attractive method for running a free society, but it also show the limitations of the system. A benevolent dictator might recognize that masks are good and force everyone to wear one in their best interest, but a free society will not do this because it violates freedoms. There is no reason to think that we couldn't have nudged people to wear masks and in many ways this was done, but there will always be those anti-social sociopaths set on doing what they want even at the expense of others.

    I think it has been largely forgotten, but the idea of liberalism is that we allow people to do whatever they want so long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. Once you cross that line, you are no longer acting in a socially acceptable way and therefore no longer receive protection.
    JustAnAllMightFan
    At some point in the distant past, the universe went through a phase of cosmic inflation,
    Stars formed, planets coalesced, and on at least one of them life took root.
    Through a long process of evolution this life 
    developed into the human race.
    Humans conquered fire, built complex societies and advanced technology .

    All of that so we can argue about nothing.
  • JustAnAllMightFanJustAnAllMightFan 497 Pts   -  
    @Happy_Killbot
    You did a better job of explaining my view on Free Will to May Cesar than I did.
    Free will cannot exist when some live in a system that physically and psychologically decide their fate.
  • DeeDee 4773 Pts   -  
    @Happy_Killbot


    I think it has been largely forgotten, but the idea of liberalism is that we allow people to do whatever they want so long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. Once you cross that line, you are no longer acting in a socially acceptable way and therefore no longer receive protection.

    I totally agree 
  • @Debra
    A benevolent dictator might recognize that masks are good and force everyone to wear one in their best interest, but a free society will not do this because it violates freedoms. Free means without cost health is a cost. Last time I took a look at basic English insuring the cost of health human health was takenas a general welfare it was a pro to freedom at a cost of limited restrictions on a persons Civil liberty. By the way a dictator would take masks away from people as thier risk to harm for what ever personal reason would be to increased risk by athority, thus the word dictator.

    A free society would not do this only because the society wished to set the rules of cost on all others. A mask worn by people has a direct cost on the very high price already sent by a public in the video security industry. 


  • AlofRIAlofRI 1481 Pts   -  
    Could someone direct me to information about a "benevolent dictator" Who was it?? Has there ever been one, or is this a right-wing intro to convince U.S. that "the John" will be a really sweet dictator that will be kind and generous to us all! ??? Frankly, I'm not buying the whole concept. 



  • Happy_KillbotHappy_Killbot 5327 Pts   -  
    @AlofRI ;

    A "benevolent dictator" isn't a real person, it is a political hypothetical.
    At some point in the distant past, the universe went through a phase of cosmic inflation,
    Stars formed, planets coalesced, and on at least one of them life took root.
    Through a long process of evolution this life 
    developed into the human race.
    Humans conquered fire, built complex societies and advanced technology .

    All of that so we can argue about nothing.
  • @AlofRI ;

    A "benevolent dictator" isn't a real person, it is a political hypothetical.
    A benevolent dictator isnt a real person, it is either a political hypothetical or an unregulated democracy. Sometimes we are the truth, sometimes we are the whole truth, other times we are just the truth someone told as a well governed lie.
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