THE CITY GRUMP
This week a public-spirited “leaker” shone a light on the secretive world of the Whitehall Nudge Units when we learnt that the Behavioural Insights Unit (the official term for Nudge) want shoppers to be hit with a meat tax in order to help the environment. Also the nudgers are advocating the increase of the “relative availability” of plant-based food. Indeed children could be provided with “sustainable defaults” in schools and shoppers could be given vegan recipes with new pots and pans. A government spokesman responded by saying it was a research paper and not official policy.
Where do these Nudge Units come from and what do they do?
The first one was established by David Cameron and was invited into the very nerve centre of 10 Downing St. It was and still is headed by a behavioural “scientist” called Professor David Halpern who came across from a quango called NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts). The PM was persuaded that if he wants to be more successful in getting the general public to do certain things they could be nudged to do so without realising it. So successful has this been that most Whitehall departments now have their own Nudge Units aka, the anti-meat eating boys and girls, and indeed many countries have also set up their own nudge operations.
Halpern & co would assert that what they are doing is for the common good and this is well described in a paper by Dr Bjorn Vollen:
But, start peeling away the onion and this excerpt from an article entitled “Nudge Units and Data-Driven Nudging” reveals what’s really going on here:
No doubt if Goebbels was alive today he would call himself the first behavioural scientist.
The Covid pandemic has provided a feeding frenzy for the Nudge Units and our current mind-bending PM has taken to them like a duck to water. Laura Dodsworth in her 21.10.21 piece for the Telegraph brilliantly takes apart the latest Covid nasties from Bojo’s nudgers. This time it started (inevitably) with the dreaded Prof Neil Ferguson appearing on Radio 4’s Today programme on the 19th October declaring:
Oops, the nudgers won’t have liked him owning up to the mask con but no matter the next day NHS leaders follow up by urging the Government to implement its Covid “Plan B” immediately, to which Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, chirps he doesn’t want to see hard won gains reversed into another lockdown. As Dodsworth:
Next, Sajid Javid holds the first Downing Street briefing in a month and solemnly warns Covid infections could soon hit 100,000 per day. Cue the Telegraph front page with a big picture of Javid and the headline blaring, “Have your booster jab to keep your freedoms”. Oh, and by the way, says Javid, if we all play our part we can get through this and enjoy Christmas with our loved ones. Nudge, nudge. Dodsworth joins all the dots here:
Meanwhile, away from manipulating our minds over Covid, the nudge units, as we saw at the start of this piece, are busily figuring out how they can nudge us into saving the planet. No doubt speeches by the great and the good at the soon to be upon us COP26 jamboree will see the nudgers in their element. Expect those of us who don’t sign up to electric cars, heat pumps (NB, I’m in the clear as I installed one 15 years ago!), etc to be progressively vilified as the mainstream media is nudged along and schools teach their pupils to show up parental miscreants.
Manipulation of its public by politicians and heads of state is, of course, as old as the hills but that manipulation has usually been overt, as in the 20th century’s preference for governments’ messages to be put across through film, television and poster campaigns. Instead nudge units are perfecting the power of auto suggestion; an influencing of one’s own attitudes, behaviour, or physical condition by mental processes other than conscious thought. This is vile. When will we realise the Government’s Nudge operations are playing us for dumb fools?
On the outside wall of The Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984 could be found the slogans “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY” and “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH”. Looks to me as if that’s what the nudge units are aiming at.
The City Grump has spent some 40 years in the City of London. He started as a stockbroker’s analyst but after some years he decided he was too grumpy to continue with the sell side of things so he moved to the buy side and became a fund manager for the next 20 years, selling his own business in the 1990s. Post the millennium, he found himself in turn chairing a stockbroker, a financial PR company, and an Exchange. He still keeps his hand in, chairing a brace of VCTs and investing personally in startups. The City Grump’s publications are available here.