Cass Sunstein has been visiting the UK and last week I attended a breakfast at which both he and the LSE’s Paul Dolan spoke. Prof Sunstein’s latest book (which I have read) is Why Nudge?, and Prof Dolan’s (which I haven’t yet) is Happiness by Design.
Why Nudge?: The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism (The Storrs Lectures) Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life
As ever, the evidence about the effectiveness of various nudges is impressive. Nor is there any answer to the point that some choice architecture is inevitable, the only issue is whether you want it to be the status quo or something that can achieve better outcomes. But neither speaker could answer the question I have about the legitimacy of nudging: who decides what is ‘better’? Is it the (largely) white, male, middle class experts who work in the policy world? What will the wider consequences be of adopting nudges that get ordinary people to pay more income tax and cheat less on benefits, without looking for nudges that get bankers to pay themselves lower bonuses or extract more corporate tax revenues from big companies?
Both speakers made some interesting points, though, about the research agenda. There are conflicting behavioural findings to be somehow reconciled, more needs to be understood about how context makes a difference to outcomes, and there is a straightforward need for much more evidence from RCTs.
Fascinating stuff. Surely the fact that we can’t not nudge in some way makes the legitimacy question all the more urgent.