We have seen the future, and it sucks.

Who Nudges the Nudgers?

3rd December 2017

Read it.

Proudhon famously said, “to be ruled is at every operation, transaction, and movement, to be noted, registered, counted, priced, admonished, prevented, reformed, redressed, corrected.” If Proudhon were living today, he certainly would have added “nudged.”

A nudge is a new term for something citizens of modern bureaucratized governments are intimately familiar. In their 2008 book Nudge, economists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein define the term as a restriction of “choice architecture” to ensure better outcomes. The idea is that whenever government acts, it inevitably creates certain policy defaults, and that, all things being equal, it’s better for those defaults to encourage good behavior over bad.

The canonical example of a nudge is that of organ donor registration. Most countries have an opt-in system, where citizens must sign a form to indicate that they consent to becoming an organ donor. Germany is one such country. The organ donor participation rate there is a paltry 12%. Here’s where the nudging comes in: imagine if instead of the system being opt-in, it were opt-out. Austria employs this strategy and with surprising success—over 99% of the population are registered as organ donors. The net effect is thousands of lives saved, as fewer of those on the organ transplant waitlist are turned away. All it takes is a conscious decision on the part of government to harness human inertia. Such is the power of the nudge.

The basic flaw with ‘nudging’ is that it’s none of the government’s damned business what people do so long as they keep the peace and don’t cheat each other. ‘Nudging’ is statist in its essence and has no redeeming features. This is just another instance of people who have a congenital urge to stick their noses into other people’s business using the power of government to implement their authoritarian agenda.

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