New government idea to change your lives


There’s no way this could go bad:

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.

“Behavioral sciences can be used to help design public policies that work better, cost less, and help people to achieve their goals,” reads the government document describing the program, which goes on to call for applicants to apply for positions on the team.

The program appears to be based upon a British idea that has been effective:

The document praises subtle policies to change behavior that have already been implemented in England, which already has a “Behavioral Insights Team.” One British policy concerns how to get late tax filers to pay up.

“Sending letters to late taxpayers that indicated a social norm — i.e., that ‘9 out of 10 people in Britain paid their taxes on time’ — resulted in a 15 percent increase in response rates over a three-month period, rolling out to £30 million of extra annual revenue,” the document reads.

Another policy aimed to convince people to install attic insulation to conserve energy.

“Offering an attic-clearance service (at full cost) to people led to a five-fold increase in their subsequent adoption of attic-insulation.”

Such policies — which encourage behavior subtly rather than outright require it — have come to be known as “nudges,” after an influential 2008 book titled “Nudge” by former Obama regulatory czar Cass Sunstein and Chicago Booth School of Business professor Richard Thaler popularized the term.

And you thought the mandates from Washington – like the HHS contraception/abortifacient/sterilization mandate set to fully take effect in January – ridiculous and perverse tax incentives, and direct subsidies to benefit special interests were bad. Now your tax dollars are going to be spent “nudging” people in the right direction.

Say, hasn’t this kind of thing been proven ill-advised before?

“Trans-fats were considered better than saturated and unsaturated fats in the past. Now we know this is an error.”

Notwithstanding, I’m sure the Administration will make extra-sure to get this one right – after all, its track record is pretty solid so far. It’s not like it’s had to unilaterally and unconstitutionally delay parts of Obamacare that haven’t worked out as advertised. It’s not like the Administration’s “shovel ready jobs” expectations missed the boat with the stimulus. Federal subsidies for green energy programs haven’t proven to be a black hole for billions of dollars either…

Oh, wait.