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.