Behavioural Public Policy

Behavioural Public Policy

Since the publication of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, the government has been keen to use evidence from behavioural economics to influence public policy in areas such as health, the environment and education; in 2011 David Cameron even introduced a so-called ‘Nudge Unit’ into Number 10. Here it is questioned whether behavioural insight is a passing trend, whether the state has any business trying to influence individual behaviour, and how ‘nudging’ could produce tangible benefits in health, the environment, education and other areas.

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    “Fast policy” in action: how the Troubled Families Programme expanded without any evaluation

“Fast policy” in action: how the Troubled Families Programme expanded without any evaluation

Established in the months following the 2011 riots, the Troubled Families Programme set out to ‘turn around’ the lives of the most troublesome and anti-social families in England by the end of the Coalition Government’s term of office. Despite a number of concerns being raised about the approach, no formal evaluation of the programme has published any substantive findings. […]

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    Individuals tend to see themselves as more ‘average’ than is the case

Individuals tend to see themselves as more ‘average’ than is the case

A subtle form of self-deception leads us to believe that others are like us in many respects even when they are not. Experimental research by Eugenio Proto and Daniel Sgroi finds that ‘self-centred’ perceptions are ubiquitous, in the sense that an individual’s beliefs about the rest of the population depend on his or her own position in that distribution.

How do you compare […]

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    Happiness research draws our attention to both structure and agency

Happiness research draws our attention to both structure and agency

Happiness research draws our attention to how the structure of society impacts upon our wellbeing just as much as it does to individual behaviours and characteristics, writes Paul Dolan. Being happier, therefore, involves both structure and agency. 

Research into happiness has increased in recent years and we know a lot more than we once did about its determinants. Researchers have typically […]

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    Government policy should be based on respect and responsiveness rather than statistics

Government policy should be based on respect and responsiveness rather than statistics

There are significant problems with statistics-based policy, argues Mark D. White. He writes that governments should eschew the use of output or well-being statistics and instead focus on respect and responsiveness. This would mean encouraging the ability and right of individuals to make choices in their own interests and responding to the needs and concerns of the people as expressed by the people.

In a previous post, I explained the […]

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    Basing government policy on happiness or well-being is misguided

Basing government policy on happiness or well-being is misguided

Regardless of the motivation and intention behind it, the move to base government policy on measures of happiness is fraught with problems at every level, argues Mark D. White. Reorienting policy towards happiness suffers from problems of definition, measurement, and implementation.

The prospect of basing government policy on measures of happiness (or subjective well-beingas it is known in the academic […]

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    The problem with nudge policies is that they threaten our freedom to choose to act well

The problem with nudge policies is that they threaten our freedom to choose to act well

At the heart of the debate about nudge policy is a debate about the freedom to choose. Some would argue that the freedom to act according to one’s own wishes without any external coercion is essential. The state, on the other hand, would do best to point out that by accepting to live in our current liberal state we already accept that […]

However you spend it, money isn’t the key to happiness

The question as to whether more money brings greater happiness comes up time and time again and will no doubt continue to do so. Studies have shown that money matters much less than people assume and some conclude this is because we aren’t spending it right. Christopher Boyce accepts this argument may have some value, but emphasises money is unimportant […]

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    The data provided by life satisfaction surveys gives a very noisy signal of wellbeing

The data provided by life satisfaction surveys gives a very noisy signal of wellbeing

Data on life satisfaction can be misleading and potentially dangerous if wrongly interpreted, argues David Spencer. We should instead be asking deeper questions about the quality of our lives that conventional survey questions cannot fully grasp. Importantly, life satisfaction surveys are subject to bias given how norms and expectations as well as aspirations impact on peoples’ perceptions of the quality […]