Thursday, July 2, 2009

Behavioral Psych Ops?

Here is an interesting read on the team of behavioral economists in Camp Obama. I've read "Predictably Irrational" (one of the books mentioned) and loved it. I've bought copies for all my friends. It's a fun read, not sure if it was intended to be a keystone to Big Government Policy, but hey that's not my call.

Here's the the money quote of the article. After going on and on re: behavioral influences, and quickly disclaiming how paternalism can easily slide into a nanny-state, the writer adjusts:

But face it: Obama is right. Our emissions are boiling the planet, and most of our energy use is unnecessary. Our health expenditures are bankrupting the Treasury, and most of our visits to the doctor can be traced to unhealthy behavior. We do need to change, and we know it.

Ah, says who? Most reasonable people will admit that there is a "debate" on our "boiling emissions." Energy use, health expenditures...? As Mamet would say regarding a flimsy movie plot point, "We'll take your word for it."

My point -> "Nudging" people in the right direction sounds like a good idea. But in the end, it's a just a nudge, and last I checked it's a free country brotha. The beauty of America is that someone can sit at a bar with a cigarette and a beer eating a bacon cheeseburger knowing it's absolutely not the best thing for their health - and do it anyway. When the government starts paying for health care, then it's in everyone's interest to prevent this from happening. But it's also in our interest to live life the way we see fit.

A good buddy of mine - who didn't smoke, wasn't obese, didn't binge drink, ate healthy, and was pretty fit - died of cancer at age 23. Not sure how changing his behavior would have changed the outcome of his battle.

I'm not advocating defeatism, but just freedom. It's very possible the next generation will live the right life - and die from diseases we yet not know. As the great Coach Wooden said, "the worst thing you can do for those you love, is to do the things they can do for themselves." Everyone has it in their power to take care of themselves. To think otherwise, well, that's defeatist.

Behavioral economists have another bias they call the "overconfidence bias," which means we're a little too confident in our beliefs.

This one is conveniently left out of the article. Let's see if this team of psychologists guiding the nation's policies practice what they preach. Or in the case of overconfidence, don't.