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The Nudge

2012 February 7
by Paul Vallely

There is something immediately appealing about the idea that behavioural psychology can make people do things they otherwise wouldn’t. It’s called The Nudge. If you label two bins Recycling and Landfill you get less in the later than if it was labelled General Rubbish. The government wants to apply these insights to public life. Trials altering the wording on official forms, they say, have made doctors pay £1m more in tax. But the government’s idea that public bodies can reduce billions lost through fraud using The Nudge is less convincing.

Human beings are irrational. Telling a teenager that his mother will hate a new video game may make him more likely to buy it. Printing the image of a fly on a urinal will make men aim at it. But fraud is not something sub-conscious. It’s a crime that people deliberately set out to do. Something a good deal heftier than nudging is required to deal with that.

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