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Building better people

Warning: I’ve got my ranting pants on.

The White House is working with a dozen different federal agencies to form “nudge squads” of “Behavioral Insights Teams” to “nudge” Americans into “correct” ways of living.

From the Behavioral Insights Team document:

“The federal government is currently creating a new team that will help build federal capacity to experiment with these approaches, and to scale behavioral interventions that have been rigorously evaluated, using, where possible, randomized controlled trials. The team will be staffed by 4-5 experts in behavioral science and experimental design and evaluation.”

I feel like a lab rat already.

David “Nice Pants Crease, Mr. President” Brooks is practically salivating at the thought that the rabble will finally be brought into line by their betters. A nudge here, a nudge there, and suddenly we’re all ironing our jeans and eating fresh greens three times a day. “Modest paternalism” he calls it.

Oh, where to begin.

govt is force

I’ll begin with the big one: What the hell gives the government the right to tell citizens how they ought to live? Not to enforce laws. Not to defend the Republic. But to “nudge” citizens into living the “right way.” Who the decides what the right way is? What gives “Behavioral Insight Teams” the moral authority to decide what behaviors ought to be “nudged” in and out of our lives?

Frankly, we’ve had a whole lot of experience with the government putting its fat, clumsy thumb on the scale of any number of industries and institutions to distort our behavior. The results are not pretty.

The government decides home ownership is good and ought to be encouraged, so it distorts the market a bit. Then a bit more. Then it says, “To heck with it, ignore everything you know about loaning money. Everybody gets a house! Be creative, banks!” Yeah, that worked well.

How about when the government decided that health care benefits didn’t fall under the wage controls it was enforcing during WWII? That gave us the foundation for our current health care system where the customer of health care (i.e. purchaser) is not the consumer of health care (i.e. patient) That’s worked out really well, hasn’t it? With health care, the government can’t help but push and prod, grotesquely distorting the market. One example of many, “Like other third-party payers, WellPoint discovered that the charges for hip and knee replacements in California were all over the map, ranging from $15,000 to $110,000.”

The older treatments came in the form of penis pumps, however you don’t need any inconvenient vacuum devices to get purchase cialis without prescription your blood flowing where you need it the most during sex. The muscle is exercised by squeezing it; levitra 60 mg http://greyandgrey.com/momentum-grows-2/ men can identify the muscle by stopping the flow of urine mid-stream. Not surprisingly, with all the craze and hype viagra uk, entrepreneurs have jumped into the bandwagon and developed modern viagra in the form of herbal pills, gels,patches,etc. They may want to avoid the guilt of infecting their beloved partner. viagra soft tabs As government has flooded the education market with easily available, federally subsidized student loans, it’s certainly purely coincidental  that college costs have risen 500%.

What I’m saying is the federal government is an unintended consequences magnet.

So what will the unintended consequence of nudging us to be “better people?” I don’t know, let’s just think about the idea of government bureaucrats determining what better people look like.

Are they religious? If so, which religion? How do you nudge people into the right faith or lack thereof? Do they have children? How many? What if they have too few or too many? How will they be nudged into the correct family model? Do they spend their free time in productive ways? Who decides what’s productive, and how will people be nudged away from “frivolous” into “productive?”

“Don’t be silly! We’re only talking about things like healthy lifestyle choices.” So how will we nudge people who aren’t healthy? Will we nudge employers to only hire “fit” people? Based on what criteria? Will we “reward” the fit with tax credits, paid for by the fit and the fat alike?

Let’s not get into all the errors the government has made regarding what is and isn’t healthy: transfats, salt, and eggs are just a few substances that have gone from good to bad, and sometimes good again. And while one part yells “evil corn syrup!” the other is busy giving farmers money hand over fist to grown increasing amounts of corn, much of which is used to make the “evil corn syrup.”

One really healthy thing for pretty much everyone — men, women, children, and communities alike — is intact families. In fact, intact families are a huge indicator for a successful, healthy life. So is the government going to nudge for people to get married and stay married? How do you nudge that? They could change laws making it harder for people to get divorced or reducing government benefits for unmarried parents. That’s less nudge, more push, don’t you think?

Even though the nudge sounds like simple advice or persuasion, 10 to 1 there is an inherent measure of force. You may be nudged by being forced to pay higher taxes or “fees” for eating the wrong foods or living in the wrong places or whatever it is the government has decided needs to be nudged away. Businesses will be required to comply with regulations, paying so that the populace can be properly pushed.

Ah, there’s the rub. Because the government can only “nudge” and cajole so much. Government’s “ought” swiftly becomes government’s “must.”  When it comes down to it, the true power of government is compulsion, not persuasion. The real tool of government is the point of a gun. The government will nudge us to becoming the “right sort of people” for a while. But when that doesn’t work fast enough or well enough, they’ll take the law and shove it right down your throat.

It is not the government’s business to determine what the citizenry look like. Quite the opposite actually. We the people tell the government what it’s supposed to look like. The only nudging going on is when we the people nudge government through our employing our rights to free speech and petition. And if that doesn’t work, we can give a big, electoral shove.

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