Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What Could POSSIBLY Go Wrong?

Gov't Knows Best? White House creates 'nudge squad' to shape behavior
The federal government is hiring what it calls a "Behavioral Insights Team" that will look for ways to subtly influence people's behavior, according to a document describing the program obtained by Critics warn there could be unintended consequences to such policies, while supporters say the team could make government and society more efficient.

While the program is still in its early stages, the document shows the White House is already working on such projects with almost a dozen federal departments and agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture.
Folks, let me ask one question with regard to this idea. Name ONE government program that didn't wind up a bloated, wasteful parody of itself inside of 10 years. DOE? EPA? HHS? SSA? Have any of those done anything towards alleviating the problems that they were created to address? Really? How many have made it like, I don't know, 100 times worse? War on Drugs? War on Poverty? TSA?

Now imagine the "Department of Useful Modifications to Behavior". Does anyone think that this won't turn into yet another useless bureaucracy with a "czar", seventeen undersecretaries making six figure salaries, their own police force, and s SWAT team armed with machine guns and a tank? I'd give it six months, nine tops before it turned into YAUGA (Yet Another Useless Government Agency). And they'd be complaining that the 3% increase in funding is ZOMG THEY'RE CUTTING IT TO THE BONE because it wasn't the 15% increase they asked for.

Besides, don't we already have multiple, redundant government agencies that could be handling this? Why couldn't we have the Department of Education whip up something on better behavior? Or the EPA could put out a series of "don't pollute" PSAs. Hell, put the TSA in charge of changing attitudes about improper touching. If there's an issue that could be addressed by this new program, odds are about 50 billion to one that there is NOT already an agency with that specific aim buried somewhere in their bloated mission statement.

And then, let's get to the heart of the matter. The .gov has no damn business trying to "influence" behavior. Hell, most of the time they get it wrong. Remember the gas additive MTBE? Remember how the EPA mandated that it be added to our gasoline to increase our gas mileage? It was supposed to increase the octane rating and burn the gasoline more cleanly - and instead wound up showing up in water tables because MTBE is very miscible with water. Oh, and it's a potent carcinogen. They kinda, oops, forgot that cars get into accidents and tanks leak and gas winds up in places where it shouldn't be.

In their zeal to show us that government would force us to be better, they made things worse. This is their modus operandi. Every single time you see a government program, they're wasting otherwise good money. Look at the ROI for private IRAs vs. SS. Check the performance of any private school vs. a government school. USPS vs. Federal Express? You start talking about a "nudge" program, chances are some lifelong government hack is going to use that "nudge" as a social policy bludgeon.

Besides, once they've got a government program to subtly alter behavior, can G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate be far behind?

That is all.

Another dispatch from...
(image courtesy of Robb Allen)


Brad_in_MA said...


The .gov has no damn business trying to "influence" behavior.

You're late to the party. One place where .gov already tries to influence behavior is with our federal tax system. We get things like deductions for mortgage interest & property taxes to encourage home ownership. We get a dollar-for-dollar reduction in our gross income for retirement savings because both .gov and society benefit from well-planned and personally well-funded retirements. Dude, sorry to burst your bubble, but the party has long since been over. We didn't get to take home the "hot chick" and get laid in all kinds of nasty, kinky ways.

- Brad

Ancient Woodsman said...

A holdover from World War II that is still going strong: the Ad Council's rather famous bear, Smokey. Attempting to modify the behavior of K through 4th grade kids for 69 years now.

Smokey, seatbelts, cigarettes, booze, guns, religion, marked mast trees, marriage, race, the voting ratio of your slaves, changing the tax on your standing timber from an annual levy to only when name it. As Brad above more eloquently put it, the .gov has been meddling in our daily lives more than we're willing to admit.

Anonymous said...

while I agree with your general concept,99% of the country do not understand the postal services requirements.Here it is in a nutshell.If you hire a person,you MUST have his retirement funds in place within 10 years,to cover him for 75 yrs after he retires.Assume he gets hired at 20,he's vested at 30,retires at 40,and has 75 yrs to go? They assume he will live to 115? No business can give that type of retirement plan,but its the law for USPS.Cut them some slack

notDilbert said...

I'm not sure which concept is more amusing. The idea that the Government is capable of doing anything in a "subtle manner" or that just because it worked in a compliant culture like the formally "Great Britain" - it is sure to work here.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

"Now imagine the "Department of Useful Modifications to Behavior"."

Someone already did that. He called it "MiniLuv".

Jay G said...

I am disappoint that no one has pointed out the obvious with that one...

Ancient Woodsman said...

"I am disappoint that no one has pointed out the obvious with that one..."

I can't read that without hearing it in a Russian accent.

Anywho, perhaps the Executive Research branch would be called D.U.M.B.E.R? Or the Expert Stantards & Testing division would be D.U.M.B.E.S.T? Yes, this could go on for a while.

Bubblehead Les. said...

So what color Jackboots do you think this new Agency will be wearing?

Ed said...

"Nudge policy"? Is that like when someone commands "Fix bayonets!"?

TinCan Assassin said...

Isn't that the Government Entity Servicing Timely Actions Policing Office?

I think the thread can stop now.

11 rigarere said...

Remember that those implementing "nudges" sometimes think that a cattle prod is a useful tool.

DocRambo said...

Can you send a personal invite to the Behavioral Insight Team to join you at the range? Maybe you could nudge their behavior in the proper direction.