The Obama ‘Nudge Unit’ Rides Again


by Robert L. Kinney III, American Thinker:

One of the things the Obama-Biden Administration is known for was its use of psychological tricks to get Americans to do what government officials wanted Americans to do. Some describe this method as a government “nudge” while others describe it as manipulation or coercion.

Politico described it as the government “using psychology on citizens” as a way for policymakers to change people’s behavior:


For the past year, the Obama administration has been running an experiment: Is it possible to make policy more effective by using psychology on citizens? The nickname is “nudging” — the idea that policymakers can change people’s behavior just by presenting choices or information differently. […]

Nudging has gained a lot of high-profile advocates, including behavioral-law guru Cass Sunstein and former budget czar Peter Orszag. Not everyone likes the idea –“the behaviorists are saying that you, consumer, are stupid,” said Bill Shughart, a professor of public choice at Utah State University — but President Obama was intrigued enough that he actually hired Sunstein, a law professor at Harvard who co-wrote the best-known book about the topic, “Nudge.”

The president officially adopted the idea last year when he launched the White House’s Social and Behavioral Science Team (SBST), a cross-agency effort to bring behavioral science research into the policymaking process. Now the team has published its first annual report on this experiment.

“Nudge” has been defined in this way:

A nudge […] is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates. Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not.

Emphasis should be on changing people’s behavior “in a predictable way.” One of the major government promoters of nudging, Cass Sunstein (a President Biden National Security official), has unconvincingly suggested that nudging is not manipulative, coercive, secretive, or trickery.

It is reasonable to conclude that the scholars’ idea of “nudge” is likely manipulation, coercion, and/or trickery, at minimum, most of the time.

The term is based on the physical nudge, in which one person physically or forcefully pushes another in the direction desired by the nudger. The nudgee is able to sense both the nudger and the direction in which the nudger desires the nudgee to go.

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