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Thread: US Department of Behavior Control

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    Default US Department of Behavior Control

    Well, boys and girls, we have officially arrived in the 21st Century and Orwell's 1984 was only a few years late. This is real, it is not a joke.




    Gov't Knows Best? White House creates 'nudge squad' to shape behavior

    By Maxim Lott
    Published July 30, 2013
    FoxNews.com



    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013...hape-behavior/

    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 FoxNews.com. 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 document was emailed by Maya Shankar, a White House senior adviser on social and behavioral sciences, to a university professor with the request that it be distributed to people interested in joining the team. The idea is that the team would "experiment" with various techniques, with the goal of tweaking behavior so people do everything from saving more for retirement to saving more in energy costs.

    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."
    [Read the full document here]

    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.

    The term "nudge" has already been associated with the new program, as one professor who received Shankar's email forwarded it to others with the note: "Anyone interested in working for the White House in a 'nudge' squad? The UK has one and it's been extraordinarily successful."

    Richard Thaler told FoxNews.com that the new program sounds good.

    "I don't know who those people are who would not want such a program, but they must either be misinformed or misguided," he said.

    "The goal is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government by using scientifically collected evidence to inform policy designs. What is the alternative? The only alternatives I know are hunches, tradition, and ideology (either left or right.)"

    But some economists urge caution.

    "I am very skeptical of a team promoting nudge policies," Michael Thomas, an economist at Utah State University, told FoxNews.com.

    "Ultimately, nudging ... assumes a small group of people in government know better about choices than the individuals making them."

    And sometimes, he added, government actually promotes the wrong thing.

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

    Every intervention would need to be tested to make sure it works well, said Harvard economics professor David Laibson, who studies behavioral economics and is in touch with the people in government setting up the program. He added that the exact way the team will function is currently unknown.

    "We have to see the details to be sure, but this could work out very well," he said.

    Asked about details, Dan Cruz, spokesman for the U.S. General Services Administration (the department which the team will be a part of) told FoxNews.com: "As part of the Administration's ongoing efforts to promote efficiency and savings, GSA is considering adding some expertise from academia in the area of program efficiency and evaluation under its Performance Improvement Council."

    Maya Shankar did not respond to questions.

    Laibson added that he hoped the U.S. program would stay away from overly controversial subjects.

    "Let's say we want people to engage in some healthy behavior like a weight loss program, and then start automatically enrolling overweight people in weight loss programs -- even though they could opt out, I'm guessing that would be viewed as offensive ... a lot of people would say, 'I didn't ask for this, this is judging who I am and who I should be."

    But Laibson added that there are very real benefits to some "nudge" policies -- such as one that increases the number of people registered as organ donors by making people decide when they apply for a drivers' license.

    Thaler, who is also an adviser to the British Behavioral Insights Team, said that his research also supports automatically enrolling people in retirement savings plans.

    "Many people have struggled to save enough to provide for an adequate retirement. ... Two simple design changes can dramatically improve the situation ... automatic enrollment (default people into the plan with the option to easily opt out) and automatic escalation, where workers can sign up to have their contributions increased annually," he said.

    Jerry Ellig, an economist at the Mercatus Center, said that some "nudges" are reasonable, but warned about a slippery slope.

    "If you can keep it to a 'nudge' maybe it can be beneficial," he added, "but nudges can turn into shoves pretty quickly."

    The author of this piece can be reached at maxim.lott@foxnews.com and on Twitter at @maximlott


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    Default Re: US Department of Behavior Control

    Here Comes the White House’s Behavioral ‘Nudge Squad’

    Jul. 30, 2013 11:52am Becket Adams




    The U.S. government is looking to recruit members for what some are calling a “Behavioral Insights Team,” a panel of experts that will study human behavior so as to “design public policies that work better, cost less, and help people to achieve their goals,” according to a document describing the program.

    “The federal government is currently creating a new team that will help build federal capacity to experiment with these approaches, and to scale behavioral interventions that have been rigorously evaluated, using, where possible, randomized controlled trials,” the document reads.

    “The team will be staffed by 4-5 experts in behavioral science and experimental design and evaluation,” it adds.

    FoxNews.com was the first to obtain and report on the White House’s “Behavioral Insights Team” memo.

    The document praises British Prime Minister David Cameron for implementing a similar “behavioral insights” team in the U.K., claiming the group has advanced the priorities of the British government while also saving it at least £1 billion within the next five years.

    The document also shows the White House is already coordinating similar programs with federal agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture.

    “We are already working with over a dozen federal departments and agencies on newly-designed behavioral insights projects,” the document reads, “including the Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education, Veterans Administration, Department of Treasury, Social Security Administration, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the United States Department of Agriculture.”

    Maya Shankar, a White House senior adviser on social and behavioral sciences, emailed the document to a university professor requesting he distribute it to people interested in applying for the gig.

    The document goes on to list the job responsibilities for the “central team”:


    • Build Capacity: Work with a broad range of federal agencies to identify new program areas that could benefit from the application of behavioral insights. Help to design, implement, and test the relevant interventions using rigorous experimental methods.
    • Enhance Capacity: Provide conceptual and technical support to agencies with specific behavioral insights efforts already underway.
    • Convene: Lead a multi-agency “community of practice” to identify and share promising practices and common challenges.
    • Create and Provide Resources: Generate tutorials and other “how to” documents to help accelerate these efforts within agencies. Manage online library of relevant documents and media.
    • Help inspire new ideas: Work with external partners to identify research findings that can inform policy and practice.


    However, some are leery of the fed’s new initiative;

    “Such policies — which encourage behavior subtly rather than outright require it — have come to be known as ‘nudges,’” FoxNews.com notes.

    The term comes from the 2008 book titled “Nudge” by Cass Sunstein and Chicago Booth School of Business professor Richard Thaler. Sunstein was the Obama administration’s regulations czar and is married to Samantha Power, Obama’s new pick for US ambassador to the UN.


    Cass Sunstein, former Director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget. (AP)

    And associating the fed’s new “behavior insight” initiative with the term “nudge” isn’t too far off.

    Indeed, as one professor who received “Behavioral Insights Team” wrote in an email to his colleagues: “Anyone interested in working for the White House in a ‘nudge’ squad? The UK has one and it’s been extraordinarily successful.”

    “I am very skeptical of a team promoting nudge policies,” Utah State University professor Michael Thomas told FoxNews.com.

    “Ultimately, nudging … assumes a small group of people in government know better about choices than the individuals making them,” he added.

    Of course, he continued, the government doesn’t always get it right.

    Dan Cruz, spokesman for the U.S. General Services Administration weighed in on the issue:

    As part of the Administration’s ongoing efforts to promote efficiency and savings, GSA is considering adding some expertise from academia in the area of program efficiency and evaluation under its Performance Improvement Council.
    Here’s the “Behavioral Insights Team” pitch:

    Behavioral Insights in the Federal Government


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    Default Re: US Department of Behavior Control

    They nudge me, I punch their fucking lights out.

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