The Government’s ‘Nudge Unit’

Officially called the Behavioural Insight Team, we now have a group reporting to a senior committee on the use of behavioural economics in policy making (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/sep/09/cameron-nudge-unit-economic-behaviour).  I have already suggested that Thaler and Sunstein’s book, Nudge, was one to be avoided.  But it strikes me that the subtle message they set out would be a great improvement on the policies we are seeing from the current coalition government.

Nudge at least argues for the representation of choices in ways that encourages us to make those that are in our best interest (as defined by Thaler and Sunstein).  Cameron and, in particular, George Osborne appear only capable of the very crudest of approaches.  Benefit cuts are targeted at those who have made welfare dependency a ‘lifestyle choice’.  Cuts in benefits for the long-term sick.  Cuts in housing benefit using extreme cases to justify widespread change.  Increasing evidence suggests that the poorest will be hardest hit by the cuts being announced each day.  This is incentivising self reliance using the very crudest thinking – withdrawal of all other assistance.

I suggested that the coalition might not last long – 18 months was my guess.  I am looking forward to the Lib Dem conference starting in Liverpool this weekend.  The cracks might be about to appear.

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3 Responses to “The Government’s ‘Nudge Unit’”


  1. 1 Dave Mckenna September 13, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    As someone who knows very little about the ‘nudge’ agenda it would be interesting to know what the evidence is behind this policy approach (if it is a policy approach)and whether there are examples of it working in a national policy context elsewhere.

    Would also be interesting to see how the success of the unit is likely to be measured. In nudges perhaps?

  2. 2 mikerowe September 14, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Perhaps there is a Wink Unit that is responsible for assessing the effectiveness of nudges? As to evidence, there are small scale illustrations in the book that suggest we can influence decisions. But I have a problem with the whole idea – who is to say what is in anyone’s best interest (see: https://liverpoolmpa.wordpress.com/2008/08/11/the-politics-of-nudging/)?

    As to current policy initiatives, it is less a nudge and more an elbow in the face.

  3. 3 dave mckenna September 14, 2010 at 10:10 am

    I tweeted the wink unit idea yesterday https://twitter.com/Localopolis/status/24372670036 – great minds and all that 😉


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