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Nudged in New Cross
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Behaviouralist Bants

So I thought Skinner was the bad guy. The really mechanistic one. Or was it Watson?

Who said we are basically all the same and that our feelings and personal stories don’t really matter.

That there is no such thing as experience. That we are all automatons. The one who put his daughter in a box.

These guys were out of fashion when I learned about them in the early 90s.

But then there was a behavioural revival of sorts. Which in turn enveloped economics.

But behavioural economics said we are all predictably irrational. That classical economics is wrong but behavioural economics is right.

But there are assumptions in behavioural economics too.

Such as that we have limited time and limited information.

Gigerenzer shows that lifting the information and time caps leads to bad decision making – even for experts.

He says we all excel at fast and frugal decision making and that overthinking things induces a form of judgment paralysis.

So behavioural economics itself is quite wrong in terms of how it is applied outside the narrowest of conditions.

And refuses to admit it only thrives under controlled conditions.

But it’s about control.

Choice architecture. Avoiding decision fatigue. Favorably automating information flows. Forcing people into certain situations and pretending it’s both logical and exemplifying freedom.

Someone tell Oliver Letwin.

He’s kind of gone now. Still an MP but not quite the eminence grise he once was.

He spoke about his ideas at the institute of government in 2014, I think.

Outlining the Road from Mont Pelerin that his parents and he had trundled. And then he admitted that he now realised that Intervention does work.

What kind of intervention do you mean, Oliver?

Surely not state intervention in markets – not a liberal like you?

Nor QE, where central banks do the heavy lifting that austerity governments ought really to be doing.

Oliver Letwin revealed that he was taking about the nudge unit.

Though he didn’t mention the job centre – he was probably talking about over there too.

His wife Isabel was head of legal services at The Department of Work and Pensions and at the Department of Health. Oliver’s crackpot ideas will have been used on mental health patients and “under” & “unemployed” people who didn’t really need them.

Of course the machinery of government exists to prevent anyone really knowing the consequences of their actions.

Agnatology is another word for ignorance studies. Sociologist Linsey McGoey has a book out on the topic next year. The Unknowers. Watch out for it.

There is always a latest fad via which the old school asset stripping is masked.

Dark Pools

At book club we looked at Dark Pools. The rise of AI and high frequency trading. I couldn’t help but think when presented with these smart idealist insurgent American price scalpers – You Got To Pick a Pocket or Two!!!

So there. From Hangman on the High Street to Richard Thaler’s Nobel 2017 Prize for Nudging.

Cancer research UK has me thinking of the Crick Institute, big pharma and the next Goldman Sachs social impact bond. This a featured big under Cameron, Osborne and Letwin and was just an excuse to privatize the NHS and get volunteers to steer the handover.

Will Davies looks at some of this stuff in Happiness Industry and Nervous States – links between neo-liberal policies, technology, happiness and “well being” discourse. I haven’t seen it yet but I’m sure big pharma has its place in there too.

There’s some great work being done on investigating all this but it’s pretty under the radar.

Let me know if you have any recommendations.

Once you start looking into any of this funny things start happening.

The Road from Mont Pelerin.

I met up with John Christensen of tax justice Network yesterday who told me about The Finance Curse, a new book out by Nicholas Shaxson.

There’s some research accompanying the launch, this Friday, which sheds light on the colossal cost to the UK of the Finance Curse.

Meanwhile check out his film The Spiders Web on YouTube and for updates on what the Tax Justice Network are up to check out the TaxCast with Naomi Fowler.

When discussing Mont Pelerin, I told John I once met Linda Whetstone, whose father, Anthony Fisher, set up the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA).

John asked me how a man who so frequently invoked freedom could make his money from forcing hens into cages barely big enough for them to even breathe.

The Macron Curse

It looks like Macron is going to copy Blair and go all out for neoliberalism.

God knows what that will do to the environment and the Paris Climate accord!

I’m meeting ChloĆ© Farrand of DeSmogUK tomorrow and will report back where she thinks we are heading.

The finance curse has done nothing to improve the gender pay gap in London. So I wonder what the figures look like in France.

London Conversation

I’m planning on publishing more frequently.

The idea is that with heightened fluency might come some sort of style.

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