I have recently read “Nudge” – a book about ‘liberal paternalism’, as the authors put it. This is where we are guided towards the better option for us, but not cutting out other choices, nor making it hard to take other options.
For example – the food in school canteens have to be laid out in someway. Liberal paternalism would have the healthy food at the front, in the eye line and easy grab-ability of students. The unhealthy food is still there, they still have the choice to take it and it is not difficult to do so, it’s just easier to get the healthy food.
They apply this principle to a whole range of topics, including the environment and being green.
They also talk about Mr Spock vs Homer Simpson, your logical side vs your irrational, easily led side. You may plan logically to get out of bed early and do some exercise, your Mr Spock will set the alarm, in the morning your inner Homer will turn off the alarm and continue to snooze. Needless to say Homer is responsible for a lot of what is wrong with my life and I am sure you can think of some examples in your life too.
Nudging is all about helping people to control their Homer.
The authors raise some good points and provide some very good case studies and examples of how this can be used to cut traffic accidents, help people save more money, get the right health care and make the right choices for them, without descending into a nanny state which impinges our free choice. More often than not in the examples they give someone has to make a default choice for everyone and this book talks about making it easier for people to make the best decisions for themselves, the country and the environment.
I realise that sounds very grandiose, but I really think that if more politicians were to read this book and put its theories into play then we would start to live in a better society.
I dont want to give any of the book away – for an economics book it is highly interesting, engaging and thought-provoking. The strapline for their website is
improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness.
So, if you have read it – what do you think, if you havent – are you going to now? If so, let me know!