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How Far to Nudge?

Assessing Behavioural Public Policy

Peter John

This book addresses the wave of innovation and reforms that has been called the nudge or behavioural public policy agenda, which has emerged in many countries since the mid-2000s. Nudge involves developing behavioural insights to solve complex policy problems, such as unemployment, obesity and the environment, as well as improving the delivery of policies by reforming standard operating procedures. It reviews the changes that have taken place, in particular the greater use of randomised evaluations, and discusses how far nudge can be used more generally in the policy process. The book argues that nudge has a radical future if it develops a more bottom up approach involving greater feedback and more engagement with citizens.
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Chapter 8: Nudge plus and how to get there

Assessing Behavioural Public Policy

Peter John


Previous chapters of this book have provided an extensive review of the development of behavioural public policy, largely with approval of the valued added of such a programme. There has been an acknowledgement of the ease with which ideas in behavioural economics have transferred into concrete policy proposals that sit well with the preferences of bureaucrats. These measures have been tested with randomised evaluations and then introduced into the standard operating procedures of agencies. The central parts of the book show the diffusion of these policies across fields of activity and jurisdictions, and the general welfare-enhancing benefits of such changes are in evidence. The criticisms of nudges, at least in a simple form that they do not work and offer no benefits, do not stand up. Moreover, there are relatively few special ethical constraints on the use of nudges, even though ethical constraints should not be waved away and are important considerations in the design of these policies.

Having shown the development of nudge, its benefits, and the lack of constraints on its use, the task now is to see if the policy agenda can be extended and expanded; whether there is greater potential for nudging, especially given the variation in the kinds that can be done, as there are a considerable number of choices about how such nudges are carried out and which ones are followed. The argument is that nudges can move more in a direction that involves some kind of reflection...

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