Last month, the White House’s Social and Behavioral Science Team published its first annual report on the effectiveness of behavioral science to achieve policy change. President Obama has been an advocate of using behavioral psychology on citizens for the purposes of policymaking, despite criticisms from notable individuals such as Bill Shughart, professor of public choice at Utah State University, who argue that the behaviorists “are saying that you, consumer, are stupid.” And despite the use of taxpayer dollars to fund this unconstitutional and downright frightening team, the findings were not exactly monumental.
Politico reports that the president officially adopted the notion of using behavioral psychology in policymaking when he launched the White House Social and Behavioral Science Team (SBST) last year. However, his affinity for the use of this science to influence the American people was clear long before that in his selection of Cass Sunstein as his regulatory czar. Sunstein authored a book on the subject, entitled, Nudge — Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Sunstein’s book provides a variety of behavioral psychology measures that can be taken to “nudge” Americans toward healthier lifestyles while causing them to think that in fact they are making the decisions themselves.
Sunstein has indicated that the presence of too many choices can be confusing to people. In describing the premise of his book, he virtually claimed that the American people were too ignorant and undisciplined to make proper decisions. “We think there is a little Homer Simpson in all of us,” he asserted. “Sometimes we have self-control problems, sometimes we’re impulsive. In these circumstances, both public and private institutions, without coercing, can make our lives a lot better.”
According to Sunstein, “Once we know that people are human and have some Homer Simpson in them, then there’s a lot that can be done to manipulate them.” It is that very some philosophy that was involved in the creation and selling of ObamaCare.
The SBST report’s findings are not exactly groundbreaking. The study found, for example, that young people respond to text messages, which only a quick glance across a school campus would reveal. However, the Department of Education and the SBST partnered with a nonprofit organization to improve the low matriculation of low-income students who had been accepted to college but did not matriculate for their freshman year. The non-profit organization elected to send text messages to select students with reminders to complete certain necessary tasks before they arrived on campus, there was a nine-percent increase in the number of low-income students matriculated.