Your government in action:
When Ontario wanted to get more people to become organ donors, the province did something simple: it made the signup process easier. Ontarians no longer had to wait in line and then receive a form while renewing driver’s licences – instead, they got a (much shorter) form first to fill out as they waited.
Only in the public sector is this considered a revelation. Up next is a comprehensive discussion of why snowplowing expenditures increase in the winter...
Public servants are learning about experiments – such as the one above – at a two-day conference in behavioural economics that ends in Ottawa today. The goal is to get those who work in government to think about applying basic lessons of economics and psychology to “nudge” citizens to take better advantage of government services.
Mr. Soman says a big topic of conversation among public servants at the conference has been “evidence-based” policy making.
Which presupposes that most public policy decisions are not made on the basis of evidence. This in turns begs the obvious questions: If analyzing empirical data isn't at the core of what you're doing then what is? Do deputy ministers throw darts at a white board filled with position papers? Does the minister flip a quarter to decide whether or not to fund a major infrastructure project? Or has Mr Soman let slip out the dirty secret of Big Government: That the purpose of the welfare-regulatory state isn't to make Canada a better place, but instead the whole apparatus is little more than a highly rationalized vote buying exercise for our parasitic elite.
While the article doesn't take us down entire rabbit hole of "nudging" the idea itself is quite unsettling. For much of the twentieth century the state - even comparatively benign states like those of Canada - thought nudging was for wimps. They simply pointed a gun and directed you to leave your wallet with the receptionist. As the bloodiest epoch in human history drew to a close with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the state assumed a more cuddly disposition. Bill Clinton proclaimed that the era of big government was over, a lie so transparent even he had trouble not smirking while he was delivering it. Yet it was an important shift in image making. Government had wielded an unsheathed iron fist for decades, now they would ask politely before you were stripped of your natural rights.
Nudging is a perfectly twenty-first century concept. We live in an age of coddling and euphemism. The English language is dying through exquisitely slow torture. What previous generations would have honestly called propaganda or outright manipulation we instead describe as "nudging" or the "politics of persuasion." When anyone questions these subtle attacks upon the freedom of the individual we are told that "it's 2015." Ask a sensible question and get a stupid answer. What begins with easier to complete paperwork, or gentle reminders of deadlines, will soon enough become more direct attempts at control. Having failed to whip, imprison and terrorize people to adhere to the statist project, our elected masters will seek to nag us into subservience. Given the pathetically weak willed lot that comprises the modern world they'll likely succeed.