ON THE M40 -- It's generally not good to read a newspaper while driving on an autoroute. Unless of course you are on the Oxfordshire-facing M40 today where nothing is moving. So, I am tucked into the Guardian which has a feature story about the behavioural economist Richard Thaler and his new book Nudge.
Everyone from Barrack Obama to British Tory leader David Cameron is interested.
What is a 'behavioural economist' you ask? Well it's not something you grew up wanting to be. But judging by the business book shelves it's a lucrative gig to have these days. Thaler and his fellow authors like Dan Ariely and Nassim Nicholas Taleb are shaking up not just your local Amazon, but also the political world of the moment.
In the Guardian article Thaler sums up his views as follows:
"One of the most important influences on people's behaviour is what other people do ... with the right prompting we'll change our behaviour to fit in with what we see around us."
The idea that the politicians like is that government can push people towards good things and then let them opt-out if they wish. Whereas people like the UK Tory party were once all in favour of choice, they now seem to be saying things like: If we know pensions are good for people, shouldn't we be pushing that option?
Which you have to admit, does make some sense.
But then you have the libertarians (and conspiracy theorists) saying: If we let them decide what's good for us, where will it stop?
And you can see what they're saying.
Although, as someone who has working in politics and government at many levels, I find no sign of enough control or fore-planning to suggest that any conspiracy is possible... anywhere!
The bit that I find professionally interesting here is the idea that maybe the state -- and employers -- have some responsibility and/or need to suggest things to people that might be in their interest. Like a pension. Like a school savings programme. Like long term disability insurance. And still allow people to opt out.
Instead I see two things in business at the moment that I find disturbing:
1) Companies that say: We can't tell you what might be good for you, that would not sit well with your consumer freedom to spend your money where you wish, on what you wish.
2) The second is companies that actively make it harder for people to buy into good things by putting them off until after a time delay: No pension until 6 months after you start. Then you can choose to join...
And who is ever going to say: I have been earning $500 a month for six months now. I think I'd like to earn less from now on... So sign me up to that useful programme!
I like this discussion by behavioural economists. I think these conversations are good. I think that businesses need to take their responsibility towards people more seriously. It's a duty of care. Not a free market of manpower.
That's just good business in my books.