People should mold government, not the other way around

“It appeared that there had even been demonstrations to thank Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grams a week. And only yesterday […] it had been announced that the ration was to be reduced to twenty grams a week. Was it possible that they could swallow that, after only twenty-four hours? Yes, they swallowed it.” — George Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four

This week the White House posted a press release under the hed: “Designing Federal Programs with the American People in Mind.” A better hed might have been: Designing the American people with federal programs in mind.”

Cass Sunstein

The substance of the announcement was that Obama had signed another of his endless and breathless executive orders, this one establishing the “first-ever Social and Behavioral Science Team (SBST) to design human-centered federal programs.”

SBST is described as “a cross-agency group of experts from human-centered design, behavioral economics, and related fields, which will provide advice and guidance …”

Examples of the how programs are to be designed with the American people in mind are:

  • Sending service members a single email that highlighted the three steps needed to enroll for the Thrift Savings …
  • Sending eight text messages to college-accepted high-school graduates, which reminded them to complete required pre-matriculation tasks, led to a nearly 9 percent increase in college enrollment among low-income students.
  • Highlighting to Veterans that they had earned an education and career-counseling benefit, relative to just notifying them of their eligibility, led to a nearly 9 percent in Veterans accessing the application for this benefit.
  • Sending personalized letters to farmers that included a tailored set of action steps to apply for a loan as well as contact information for the recipient’s local loan offer increased the number of farmers who obtained a loan by 22 percent.

None of the programs was changed to what the people wanted. The people were pestered into signing up for programs the government thought were good for them. So, who is designing whom?

Sounds like a page out of Obama adviser Cass “Old People Should Just Die” Sunstein’s book “Nudge,” in which he and his co-author say people often don’t do what is good for them because it is easier to do nothing than to make a decision. They propose the government engage in paternalism to nudge people into doing what is best for them as determined by the government.

Sounds a bit like the “Road to Serfdom” described by F.A. Hayek.





23 comments on “People should mold government, not the other way around

  1. nyp says:

    I’m not sure how making it easier for farmers to get loans turns us into serfs, but whatever.

  2. F.A. Hayek:

    Yet the change undergone by the character of the British people, not merely under its Labour government but in the course of the much longer period during which it has been enjoying the blessings of a paternalistic welfare state, can hardly be mistaken. These changes are not easily demonstrated but are clearly felt if one lives in the country.

    In Illustration, I will cite a few significant passages from a sociological survey dealing with the impact of the surfeit of regulation on the mental attitudes of the young. It is concerned with the situation before the Labour government came into power, in fact, about the time this book was first published, and deals mainly with the effects of those war regulations which the Labour government made permanent:

    It is above all in the city that the province of the optional felt as dwindling away to nothing. At school, in the place of irk, on the journey to and fro, even in the very equipment A provisioning of the home, many of the activities normally possible to human beings are either forbidden or enjoined. special agencies, called Citizen’s Advice Bureaus, are set up to steer the bewildered through the forest of rules, and to indicate to the persistent the rare clearings where a private person may still make a choice ….

  3. nyp says:

    yeah, just walk around London and you will see what a totalitarian society it has become, how the British people have been reduced to the level of serfs.

    That passage just confirms my longtime belief that “Road to Serfdom” was the the wrongest book that was ever written.

  4. nyp says:

    On the other hand, Hayek did write this:

    “There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision”

    So I suppose he was not completely off his rocker.

  5. Steve says:

    Not really very safe for US visitors to England to be casually walking around London, if you want to be treated well in England, get out of the population centers. Rural people like us there.
    City people have no problems showing their animosity towards people from the “colonies”

  6. nyp says:

    That’s what serfs are like — very hostile people.

  7. Steve says:

    Remember all those guns in Russia when Boris Yeltsin showed up?

    serfs, weren’t allowed to have them, right?

  8. Nyp says:

    The serfs in Australia aren’t allowed to have guns, either.

  9. Steve says:

    Like England….where bombings by the IRA used to be common.

  10. nyp says:

    If only the IRA had AK-47s the Troubles could have been avoided.

  11. Steve says:

    N Ireland is still in serfdom.

    In terms of income inequality, Ireland is now one of the four most unequal nations in the entire world, just ahead of the USA.

  12. nyp says:

    Must be their stringent gun control laws.

  13. Steve says:

    Liberal policy.

    The fed indicated jobs aren’t quite what we are being told.

  14. nyp says:

    Unemployment when President Obama took office: 9%
    Unemployment today: 5.1%

  15. nyp says:

    When President Obama took office America was losing 800,000 jobs per month.

    Today, we are enjoying 66 months of uninterrupted job growth.

  16. Steve says:

    I note you don’t disagree with my statement.

  17. nyp says:

    the only thing that will stop a bad IRA member with a gun is a good Unionist with a gun.

  18. Rincon says:

    “N Ireland is still in serfdom. In terms of income inequality, Ireland is now one of the four most unequal nations in the entire world, just ahead of the USA.” Are these two sentences not related or are you implying that income inequality suggests serfdom?

  19. Steve says:

    I was playing with Nyp.

  20. Winston Smith says:

    Edward Bernays…

  21. Steve says:



    Parts of the economy are ailing despite the drop in unemployment. Pay growth has barely improved, for example. And millions hold jobs below their education levels or can’t find full-time work.”

    Sure, plenty of lower wage, less challenging and part time work has become the norm with fully 37& of the skilled workforce now contract labor responsible for carrying their own health insurance under the law.

    Next we have the H1B work visa, since we can’t export jobs anymore, now the policy is to import the low wage labor to depress wages here. This way that Cadillac tax won’t be an issue. Disney is loving this! Laying off 400 IT professionals recently, making them train their replacements in order to get the severance pay and watching the bottom line look great!

    So much for income inequality, right? You libs really don’t like trailing Ireland! Gotta be number one!

    Obama’s 17 trillion, Bernie’s 18 trillion…these are drops in the bucket in comparison to how much the fed has taken from the future. If it is really good and very careful, the fed will break even in about 100 years.

    Leadership and policy for the great liberal fantasy….the money tree is dying.

  22. Steve says:

    That should read 37% not 37&

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