Nudge Policy: an Important Element of Policy Making – Liberal Article
Since its introduction at a government level in 2010, behavioural public policy has been increasingly used to implement the policy aims of subsequent governments. Although it has not always been successful, nudge policy should continue to play a large role in the future.
Nudge theory focuses on human nature instead of simply assuming we are all rational in our decision-making. By exploring the imperfect elements of humans, policies can be tailored to ensure they can have the biggest impact. We are not perfect, so why have policy-makers for so long pretended that we are? Our decisions are influenced by a number of biases. It is these that public policy can manipulate to fulfil a government’s agenda. The increase in its use at a policy level is encouraging. However, the upwards trend must continue to remain effective.
Using behavioural public policy can be increasingly effective with very little time, effort or money needed. A significant barrier is that we continuously accept the status quo, even if it is not in our best interest to do so. How could nudge encourage a different approach? Change the status quo. One of the most successful behavioural public policies to date demonstrates this: the automatic enrolment for private pensions. A change in default to enrol people in the scheme added nine million workers to the scheme. There is a range of policies, of which adjusting the status quo is just one. This example, however, best highlights the strengths of government use of nudge policy.
Behavioural policies cost very little to implement. As politicians argue the budget and how little money certain sectors have available, nudges attempt to make an impact without the high costs attached. Not only is it cheap, but it is also quicker to implement than traditional policy. The lack of legislation required alleviates the potential for political opposition, speeding up the process significantly. The lack of opposition in parliament to these measures mirrors that of the public. Prior to his election, Cameron summed this up well when he stated “the appeal of behavioural approaches is not always that it is more effective but that it is a lot less unpopular”.
This quote highlights a potential weakness of nudge policy: its effectiveness. Ultimately, nudges do not always work. By attempting to manipulate decisions subconsciously, the intended outcome may not always happen. However, I would argue that failed nudges should not discourage their use. Whenever a nudge fails, we gain greater information that can be used after to ensure effective policy at a later point. It will undoubtedly prolong the period in which it takes to resolve the issue, but it is worth this risk with little cost associated.
The aspect of nudge policy that is targeted by any opposition most is the paternalistic element. Subtlety implementing nudges onto the population in a sense demonstrates the government acting as ‘Big Brother’. The government can decide what is best for citizens and impose these onto people regardless of citizen’s own preferences. I would argue the position of libertarian paternalism: if the goal is to improve the utility of the individual or the collective, it is okay to act in a paternalistic manner.
Under the pretence of ‘protecting the NHS’, people have allowed the government to impose rules upon them. When the pandemic is over, several other issues fall into this category under the same pretence. For example, obesity, should it be a target policy for a government. Government will now have a precedent for acting paternalistically to protect the health service, granted by citizens. I would urge the government to be cautious not to overstep the mark but in certain circumstances use nudge policy to achieve success.
Any paternalism does still allow citizens a choice. Undoubtedly people will be influenced, but if there is a strong preference against a policy, it is easy to ignore the nudge and continue otherwise. By not forcing an action upon citizens, it is arguably more democratic as well. The ruling party very rarely has a majority of the vote but instead a plurality. This choice gives those who voted against the chance, in some areas, to reject policy. Of course, I contemplate the rebuttal that the subconscious nature of nudges works against this. However, traditional policy would not give any chance of opting out, this at least offers a chance.
Behavioural public policy has only recently become an increasingly prominent aspect of policy making. However, it could be used so much more. For nudge to be successful, politicians must back it and implement any advice in full. The only thing stopping them is the lack of credit possible to assign to a politician afterwards. Politicians must get over it and support nudge policies to better society and forge ahead with their agenda.
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Fletcher Kipps
Point of Information
Moral Issues Must Not Be Forgotten – A Conservative Response
Nudging, as is stated, could have great potential. It can help introduce cheaper policy into government. This is something that, after the pandemic, is desperately needed. However, I am conflicted over if it can be the silver bullet solution it is made out to be. There are moral concerns that should be outlined, yet are ignored. Important considerations, such as where the policy should be put into practice, transparency of the policy, and the effect it has on freedom of choice, need to be made.
Firstly, one area it shouldn’t be applied to is organ donation. As the liberal response to the article on organ donation rightly pointed out, presumed bodily consent should not be assumed when taking someone’s organs. It is not applied in situations of sex or abortion, because everyone rightly agrees that in those areas it’s abhorrent.
Yet it is now being applied in opt-out schemes. The problems surrounding organ donations were not because people didn’t want to opt-in. It’s because they didn’t know that they could. Even though you are still free to opt-out of the new system, if you or your family don’t because of a lack of information (and there was a serious lack of information surrounding this change) then the condition of consent is not met. Nudge policy was not the right solution. Increasing the available information would have been the right solution. Nudge policies should therefore not be seen as a quick fix for issues that require different solutions.
And the lack of information is my main issue with nudge policies. You are implicitly telling people how they should or should not act, without necessarily giving them all the information that they should have to act upon the issue themselves. This removes the transparency that people should have access to make an informed decision, not simply one pre-determined by the policymaker. It is argued that, by not forcing people to choose a specific option, it is more democratic. But pushing them down a specific path without the person’s knowledge or the relevant information to act upon is not democratic at all. That sounds like a dictatorship through stealth.
The phrase “manipulate decisions subconsciously” causes worry. This highlights the fact that nudge policies don’t preserve the freedom of choice as is thought. Instead it merely creates an illusion of free choice. Pushing citizens into choosing what is deemed the right choice is not a free action. You are only making them think that in order to keep the policymaker’s hands clean. This leads to the criticism of paternalism, as what is best for people is still being decided and enforced, just by covert means.
The main article focuses overwhelmingly on the positives of any potential continuation of nudge policy, seemingly leaving out the moral implications of it. There are success stories out of nudge policy. In areas like climate change, it can work with other types of policy to produce a beneficial result. However, moral implications must also be considered in order to make sure that an overstepping of the mark doesn’t happen.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt
Great Potential in Moderation – A Labour Response
Nudge policy has great potential for combating issues and for catalysing change in certain areas. As well as the pension scheme, as Fletcher mentioned, we have also seen success for organ donations with the introduction of an opt-out system. The nudge in this instance is beneficial to so many with little effort required. And of course, there is still an option to opt-out so there remains an element of choice.
An area that could benefit from a nudge is the climate crisis. Both consumers and conglomerates must change their habits and become greener for the benefit of everyone. So undeniably there are existing success stories and significant room for future success.
Naturally, however, there is an argument of paternalism here. It does hold little weight when it comes to pensions and organ donation because these have positively impacted almost everyone involved. However, continuing to expand on instances where nudge policy is used could see an increase in the threat of paternalism so it must be measured. No party or government should ever have enough power to influence citizens’ behaviour in their favour.
When it comes to obesity, I would argue the government have already overstepped the mark. Their 2020 obesity strategy was far more dangerous than beneficial; calorie labelling for instance will only exacerbate existing mental health issues and eating disorders. Any policy in this instance, among many, cannot afford to be over-simplified.
Ultimately, if done correctly, and for issues that will improve imminent issues above a party’s electoral success, nudge policy is an effective measure – it’s cheap and largely effective. However, its role needs to be fully established within governments and policymaking before expansion to avoid any potential overstep.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo