Thoughts on economics and liberty

The “Do something” disease

The most detestable doctors are those who feel they must "do something" for their patient, even without understanding what's the problem. Unfortunately, the VAST MAJORITY of doctors have this disease  They've  caused me not only endless grief (and pain), but charged me an arm and leg for that privilege. And I'm sure they will cause you the same problems soon enough. We expect doctors to THINK, to carefully consider the facts, and THEN do something. But presumably careful analysis won't make them the SUPERNORMAL profits they make at our expense.

Politicians have this disease, as well. When something happens, they feel the strong urge to "do something" about it, even though there is simply no possible justification for government intervention nor any possibility of success of such intervention.

And Keynesian economists (being the vast majority of "trained" economists) suffer from this delusion too. They feel they must "do something" each time government-created disturbances are created in the economy. The problem in this case, of course, is that Keynesians are so thoroughly confused that no amount of thinking will help them. They never examine causes, anyway. Just live in a world of "animal spirits". Stark, raving mad as the spirits they pretend to analyse.

Today I came across an excellent write-up on perhaps the most intrusive type of "trained" "economists" of all: the "nudge" economists.

Don't wink at the nudge plan,  by: Frank Furedi, The Australian, October 05, 2012

A REALLY bad idea is being imported into Australia. The NSW government has decided to spend precious [on] behaviour management techniques dreamed up by the British government's "nudge unit". Why? Because the NSW government believes that the British policymakers are in the forefront of the "innovative" use of behaviour-change tactics. And it appears that the citizens of NSW really need to have their behaviour altered. [Sanjeev: Being a Melbournian, I agree.]

The objective of the nudge unit is to nudge people to change their behaviour, without the use of compulsion.

What's really wrong with this toxic import from Britain is the threat it represents to democratic public life.  The nudge unit operates on the assumption that instead of democratic debate, subliminal psychological techniques and manipulation [are needed].

These techniques are based on the ideas of American behavioural economist Richard Thaler, who believes that since people often fail to act rationally and in their own interests, they can only benefit from being nudged in the right direction by governments and experts.

Thaler and his acolytes in the nudge unit are convinced that their expertise entitles them to pronounce what is in people's best interest. [Sanjeev: To all such "well-wishers" one recommends minding their own business.]

The casual manner in which the advocates of nudge dismiss the right of people to behave in accordance with their intuition and instincts exposes their soft authoritarian ambitions.

It is far from clear where behavioural economists get the moral authority to manipulate people's behaviour.

Experience shows that experts do not always possess wisdom and that ordinary people have very little to learn from them.

Remoulding the way people think and act requires a significant erosion of their right to assent to, or reject, policies. This presupposes the elimination of a two-way discussion between citizens and their rulers.

Nudging is not some harmless technique dreamed up by policymakers. It assumes for the state the role of a therapist and relegates the public to the status of a patient. 

To all those who want to "Do Something" for us, please do so (a) ONLY if requested AND (b) if you can PERSONALLY GUARANTEE that your remedy will work. Put your head on the line. (And I mean, the HEAD.) Don't just push your silly ideas on people AT THEIR EXPENSE. If Thaler wants to use his OWN money to preach his message, let him do so. But let him not use taxpayer funds to FORCE his ideas on us.

Sanjeev Sabhlok

View more posts from this author
2 thoughts on “The “Do something” disease

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *