08 July 2008

David Cameron and "Nudging"

Rachel Sylvester has an interesting take on David Cameron and personal responsibility/moral choice.

The latest must-read book at Conservative HQ is Nudge, which argues that peer pressure is a more effective way to change behaviour than state directives. Last week, Steve Hilton, the Tories' chief strategist, met one of its authors, Richard Thaler, to discuss how his approach could be applied to social problems such as drugs and knife crime. At the moment, the argument goes, people are being “nudged” in the wrong direction, with rap music that glorifies violence, soap operas that popularise antisocial behaviour and gang culture that creates a sense of family for people who have none.

The question is how to turn the nudges around. A rap song that highlighted the danger of carrying a weapon could be more deterrent than endless knife summits at No10. A health visitor who persuaded working-class mothers to read to their children might have as great an impact on education as a change in the qualifications system. In short, Mr Cameron does not just want to hug a hoody, he wants the hoodies to be persuaded to hug each other. He wants to create a smaller state by reducing demand rather than supply.
Jim, over at The Daily Maybe, has also written on this recently:

We have a society that ritually idolises violence, wealth, image and personal satisfaction over a sense of community. We have a society where many people, both young and old, feel they are outsiders to their own communities, where no-one has a responsibility to them and they have no responsibility to anyone else. Under these circumstances it's a surprise that so many people feel a sense of social responsibility.
Cameron is on to something. His objective is to keep government small and non-interventionist by encouraging civil society to be more interventionist with itself. He is wrong when he talks about "social responsibility" and withdrawing the UK from the EU Social Chapter. I think he's wrong when he characterises things like obesity and drug abuse as moral failures, rather than health issues to be treated.

But, there are aspects where his kind of approach will be right.

We need to look at why people join gangs (why gangs provide better security than the state) and why people are more willing to shoot/stab folks than 5 years ago. You can't legislate so that people stab each other less.

I think Cameron's is right about peer-pressure being, sometimes, as effective as top-down regulation. Neighbours talking with neighbours about composting, about how to travel to Italy by train, about how they installed their water butt, is the way things will happen.

It's going to be interesting how Cameron pitches this idea of "social responsibility" and differentiates it from the idea of the "nanny state" ... and Ed Miliband is already starting to respond to Cameron's rhetoric with talk of individual control of state budgets.


jwcuibono said...

I notice you visited Guido's and left a completely asinine comment.

You severely underestimate the depth of anger arising in the country at the moment.

Despite your sanctimonious cant, perhaps some of us don't like the fact that she intends to make it perfectly legal to discriminate against only one group of people in this nation.

I don't in any way speak for/represent/know Guido; but, as one of the regular and long time commenters there, along with, I suspect, many other regulars I would just say this.

Mote and beam.

Or you could just fuck off and not come back.

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