Sunday 1 November, 10.45am until 12.15pm, Upper Gulbenkian Gallery Keynote Controversies
The question of whether it is legitimate for governments to coerce people for their own good has long been an important one in politics. Ever since the birth of liberal thought, some critics have worried that, freed from the constraints of authority or tradition, people will make the ‘wrong choices’. From censorship of ‘dangerous’ books and ideas to prohibition of alcohol and restrictions on smoking, there is a long tradition of authoritarian intervention to save people from themselves. Thaler and Sunstein’s influential 2008 book, Nudge, sparked an ongoing debate about a new brand of ‘libertarian paternalism’. Rather than actually coercing people, the authors argue that by giving thought to ‘choice architecture’, governments can nudge people into making better decisions for themselves, society and the environment.
From setting defaults to encourage employees to pay into pension funds, to using psychological tricks to encourage recycling, the authors suggest various ways of encouraging desired behaviour without compromising autonomy. Is it childish to object to such ‘nudges’, as long the final decision rests with us, or do they represent a patronising affront to our individual autonomy? Is this really libertarian, or just a more subtle form of the ‘nanny state’, as confident as ever that the experts knows best? Who decides what kind of behaviour is desirable or otherwise? Shouldn’t such questions be subject to open debate rather than handed over to geeky ‘choice architects’ who treat the public as lab rats? Is ‘nudging’ a means of governing without winning any arguments? Or should we be happy to go with the flow in such trivial matters?
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chair of the trustees, Demos; deputy chief leader writer, The Times; senior visiting fellow, LSE; co-author, The Liberal Republic
|Dr Stuart Derbyshire|
reader in psychology, University of Birmingham; associate editor, Psychosomatic Medicine and Pain
co-editor, ConservativeHome; co-founder, ConservativeIntelligence.com; member, advisory board, Centre for Social Justice
professor of social policy, University of Kent, Canterbury; director, ESRC Social Contexts and Responses to Risk programme; author, Reframing Social Citizenship
director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive
Across the nation, an antigarbage strategy known as “zero waste” is moving from the fringes to the mainstream, taking hold in school cafeterias, national parks, restaurants, stadiums and corporations.Leslie Kaufman, New York Times, 19 October 2009
Rewarding people for healthy living has earned results but the long-term implications are alarming.Libby Brooks, Guardian Comment is free, 15 October 2009
There's a paradox in aiming to improve services even as the Government does less.Steve Richards, Independent, 9 October 2009
Paying people to lose weight works better than diet plans, research suggests. A scheme being trialled by the NHS that rewards slimmers with cash or shopping vouchers could be more than twice as effective, it is claimed.David Rose, The Times, 5 October 2009
Nagging Britain: When you walk out of the front door, suddenly you're surrounded by beeps and announcements telling you how you should behave.Harry Mount, Daily Mail, 2 September 2009
Forecasts and figures are a confidence trick. Bankers have a lot riding on us believing things are getting better – or worse.Antonia Senior, The Times, 7 August 2009
If Obama's nudgers are the 'Benevolent Nudgers', who are those 'Evil Nudgers'? The GOP? Or everyone who opposes the President? Or are both sides 'Evil Nudgers' in disguise? Yes, and here's why.Paul B Farrell, Fox Business, 13 July 2009
To be a successful practitioner of 'nudge' it appears you might need to understand what makes deliberation work and to be an effective practitioner of 'think' you may need to understand the dynamics of 'nudge'.Peter John, Graham Smith and Gerry Stoker, The Political Quarterly, July 2009
Every day we make decisions: about the things that we buy or the meals we eat; about the investments we make or our children’s health and education; even the causes that we champion or the planet itself. Unfortunately, we often choose poorly...
Richard H Thaler & Cass R Sunstein, Penguin, 4 March 2009
‘Libertarian paternalism’ represents a retreat from political debate, and the rise of a base psychological agenda that wants to make us conform on green, health and lifestyle issues.Martyn Perks, spiked, 19 December 2008