Welcome to President Obama’s brave new world.
Federal agencies have been directed to hire psychologists to experiment and find ways to better manipulate the American people to the federal government’s will.
“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,” Obama wrote in an executive order released Tuesday on WhiteHouse.gov. The origin of the order can be traced back to a 2013 policy proposal entertained by the White House called “Strengthening Federal Capacity for Behavioral Insights.”
The president’s new order said streamlined applications for federal financial aid and automatic retirement payments are two examples where behavioral-science lessons applied to government programs have been effective.
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“[T]o more fully realize the benefits of behavioral insights and deliver better results at a lower cost for the American people, the federal government should design its policies and programs to reflect our best understanding of how people engage with, participate in, use, and respond to those policies and programs,” Obama wrote, the Washington Examiner reported.
Obama has not hidden his interest in using federal resources to employ behavioral science techniques on the public. The White House launched a Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, or SBST, in February 2014 and then celebrated its one-year anniversary on the White House blog.
“SBST had a successful first year, launching a wide variety of evidence-based pilots with objectives ranging from connecting veterans with employment and educational counseling benefits to helping struggling student borrowers understand their loan repayment options,” the Obama administration wrote Feb. 9, 2015.
SBST will now move forward to identify programs that will “most effectively promote public welfare, as appropriate, giving particular consideration to the selection and setting of default options.” The team’s work is done under the purview of the National Science and Technology Council.
Two figures whose research played a key role in bringing the new initiative to fruition were Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein (once deemed Obama’s regulatory czar), and Richard Thaler, a University of Chicago economist, the Daily Beast reported Tuesday.
“The two behavioral scientists argued in their 2008 book ‘Nudge’ that government policies can be designed in a way that ‘nudges’ citizens toward certain behaviors and choices,” the Daily Beast reported.
Obama’s executive order requires SBST to issue guidance to federal agencies on how to implement his policy directive within the next 45 days.
SBST will also consider different ways of labeling “benefits, taxes, subsidies, and other incentives” to “more effectively and efficiently promote” the president’s policy goal.