Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.
The celebratory coverage here at The Financial Times of Richard Thaler, and by definition his co-conspirator Cass Sunstein, in their Authoritarianism disguised as ‘Nudge’, is unsurprising! Read Richard Waldron’s review of Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism and Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas at The New York Review of Books web site, it is available without charge, link below
Mr. Waldron’s guards his bourgeoisie political respectability with this bland evaluation, not to speak of his accommodationism, of the policies that both Sunstein and Thaler advocate in their ‘Nudge’ book, Waldron’s concluding concluding paragraphs are telling. In this exercise of critique Mr. Thaler is utterly absent, curious for a co-author to be ignored, the ‘as if’ being that his contributions, to this carefully framed rationalization for ‘benign manipulation’ were superfluous. The awarding of a Nobel Prize is the great clarifying moment!
It may seem a bit much to saddle Cass Sunstein with all this. The objections about dignity and manipulation that I’ve been considering can sound hysterical. It is perfectly reasonable for him to ask: “Is there anything insulting or demeaning about automatic enrollment in savings and health care plans, accompanied by unconstrained opt-out rights?” The strategies he advocates, when used wisely and well, seem like a sensible advance in public regulation, particularly when we consider them nudge by nudge.
Still, it is another matter whether we should be so happy with what I have called “nudge-world.” In that world almost every decision is manipulated in this way. Choice architects nudge almost everything I choose and do, and this is complemented by the independent activity of marketers and salesmen, who nudge away furiously for their own benefit. I’m not sure I want to live in nudge-world, though—as a notoriously poor chooser—I appreciate the good-hearted and intelligent efforts of choice architects such as Sunstein to make my autonomous life a little bit better. I wish, though, that I could be made a better chooser rather than having someone on high take advantage (even for my own benefit) of my current thoughtlessness and my shabby intuitions.
And Mr. Sunstein’s reply:
Thank you for your comment. Another more pertinent question might be this: what is the difference between ‘increasing awareness’ and ‘advocacy‘? The idea/notion of ‘nudge‘ is an offhand colloquialism, where a ‘push’ describes, more accurately, the asymmetry of power, that defines the relationship between government and the citizen. I would argue that as a citizen, I don’t want any more ‘nudges’ nor ‘pushes‘ from government.
Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein are of a Technocratic Elite, Policy Experts, or just plain political hacks, who serve both an utterly corrupt and collapsed ‘Market Mythology’, and a demonstrably corrupt political class: New Democrats and Republicans, whose misrule and mendacity has produced The Know-Nothing Trump.
How about a restatement of republican principals, allied to a Politics/Economics of a New-New Deal, rather than ‘Behavioral Economics’ , as a new frame that ‘pundits’ will refer to, as some kind of ‘New Paradigm’ al la Kuhn, just to tart up their inane yammering apologetics for the dismal political present!