The Obama administration last week made public a new executive order that received surprisingly little focus in the mainstream media, but maybe that’s not so surprising. The executive order is entitled “Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People”. Its preamble states:
A growing body of evidence demonstrates that behavioral science insights — research findings from fields such as behavioral economics and psychology about how people make decisions and act on them — can be used to design government policies to better serve the American people.
Sounds very innocent and well meaning, doesn’t it? Reading further into the order, it describes the intent as an effort to deliver better governmental results at lower cost for the public at all levels. In the administration’s words, increased understanding of what makes citizens tick will allow the government to help workers find better jobs, improve the health of our population, improve the delivery of education and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy (that’s liberal-speak for learning to embrace poverty).
More specifically, the order specifies that government agencies:
1) identify areas that can benefit from behavioral science insights
2) develop strategies to apply these insights
3) recruit experts in the behavioral sciences
4) develop close relationships with the behavioral science community
This order was uploaded to the >whitehouse.gov website for full public consumption and it’s certainly written to give the impression of a hardworking government just trying to be a better servant to the citizens. Do you really buy that? I can think of a lot of other words I would substitute for the word “serve” in the title of this executive order. How about “influence” or “manipulate” or “maneuver” or “deceive” or “enslave”?
You see the governmental and academic elite believe that we citizens do not make rational decisions. We are flawed creatures whose ability to process information is limited and fraught with error. Our emotions prevent us from being cool-headed rational decision makers like those in Washington.
From the elites’ view, it’s not rational that you believe you know how to spend your money better than the government. It’s not rational that you believe in national sovereignty and the defense of our borders. It’s not rational that you believe you can better educate your child than the government. It’s not rational that you believe you know what to eat better than the government.
Our elites decide what is rational. And isn’t it amazing that what turns out to be rational also helps grow government power and control? Have you seen any policy in recent memory that increases individual autonomy and freedom? No way. It’s all going in the opposite direction.
The genesis of this administration’s interest in the application of behavioral science to influence citizens started with the regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein, better known inside the beltway as the “nudgster”. He co-authored a book called: Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Again, I would ask, who’s health, wealth, and happiness?
A nudge is anything that would subtly move a person out of their normal behavior pattern and into whatever response the government deems rational. The Obama Administration is embracing the technique and expanding its application. Isn’t it great that we the citizens are supplying the tax revenue that enables the government to nudge us into giving them increasingly higher levels of revenue? On many fronts, we are enabling them to manipulate us into giving up our personal sovereignty.
A free republic is messy. There are epic failures. People make mistakes, lots of them. However, it’s through the failures and mistakes that we learn individually and as a society. We grow by falling flat on our faces and developing the fortitude to get up and try again. Our government elites don’t understand this. They believe that through their superior wisdom they can perfect society if they have enough power and control and they are going to nudge us until they have the power and control they crave. They reject the lessons of history for the expediency of their intellect. Millions have died in the pursuit of such utopian perfection.
However, we are citizens and not subjects. This government works for us. We are not their lab rats. We agreed to give up a little of our sovereignty and autonomy to a federal government to which we have granted specific limited powers. We did not give them the power to manipulate us. We did not grant them the position of overlords.
They will not willingly relinquish the power they have already amassed. We will have to wrest it from them. Ready to do some heavy arm-twisting?