Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Obama’s ‘Behavioral Data’ Order Has Sinister Implications
Logan Albright has some reasonable concerns below but the problem may not be as great as he thinks. As I have been pointing out rather a lot lately, psychology is mostly bunk, so policies based on it are unlikely to get the results intended
If I had to sum up the Obama administration in a single word, I think that word would be “arrogance.”
The president has always regarded himself as the smartest guy in the room, with an ego that has been relentlessly stroked by the press and the people he surrounds himself with. He has refused to work with Congress, preferring instead to dictate his agenda to them and expect absolute compliance, or else.
He opines about national news before knowing the facts. He expects foreign leaders to bend to the force of his personality in lieu of actual negotiations. He even promised to roll back the tides and heal the planet, as though Mother Nature herself would bow to his raw charisma and mighty intellect.
This arrogance is also displayed in President Obama’s attitude towards the people who elected him. The American public, in his mind, are little more than sheep, to be herded in whatever direction he deems appropriate. It’s the mindset behind all big-government progressives, but it’s been particularly evident under this president.
The latest example is an executive order issued by Obama that asks various government agencies to start using behavioral data in the way they market and implement government services.
Behavioral economics has become fashionable of late, with the core idea being that you can use psychology and data to influence people’s behavior. It’s a sinister twist on marketing, with the idea basically being that people must be tricked into making the “right decision.”
These techniques have been heavily encouraged by Obama’s former regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein, who argued in his book “Nudge” that government should paternalistically push people into making better choices.
First of all, what a “better” choice is depends entirely on individuals and their priorities. It’s not government’s place to tell us that we are living our lives wrongly, that we eat too much, that we exercise too little, or that products we like and want to buy just aren’t good enough.
Second, the instructions to use data in promoting federal programs lead to the obvious question of where this data is going to come from. Reading the White House statement, it appears that they plan to draw largely from existing behavioral science research, but the order also creates a social and behavioral sciences team of experts to help advance these tactics.
One line from the statement is particularly worrisome:
"In addition to these federal actions, universities, nonprofits and researchers are announcing expanded efforts to work together to use insights from the social and behavioral sciences to improve programs."
This sounds suspiciously like the White House recruiting private researchers to spy on us and “nudge” us into government programs. We already know that the government collects all kinds of data on innocent citizens, claiming national security as a justification. What happens when they start collecting it to actively influence our decision making?
No, Bernie Sanders, Scandinavia is not a socialist utopia
by Jeff Jacoby
WHEN BERNIE SANDERS was asked during CNN's Democratic presidential debate how a self-proclaimed socialist could hope to be elected to the White House, he gave the answer he usually gives: Socialism has been wonderful for the countries of Scandinavia, and America should emulate their example.
"We should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people," Sanders said. When the moderator turned to Hillary Clinton, she agreed that America has to "save capitalism from itself" and that, yes, Scandinavia is great. "I love Denmark," declared Clinton. It was the only time in the debate a candidate uttered the verb "love."
Liberals have had a crush on Scandinavia for decades. "It is a country whose very name has become a synonym for a materialist paradise," observed Time magazine in a 1976 story on Sweden. "Its citizens enjoy one of the world's highest living standards. . . . Neither ill‑health, unemployment nor old age pose the terror of financial hardship. [Sweden's] cradle-to-grave benefits are unmatched in any other free society outside Scandinavia." In 2010, a National Public Radio story marveled at the way "Denmark Thrives Despite High Taxes." The small Nordic nation, said NPR, "seems to violate the laws of the economic universe," improbably balancing low poverty and unemployment rates with stratospheric taxes that were among the world's highest.
Such paeans may inspire Clinton's love and Sanders's faith in America's socialist future. As with most urban legends, however, the reality of Scandinavia's welfare-state utopia doesn't match the hype.
To begin with, explains Swedish scholar Nima Sanandaji, the affluence and cultural norms upon which Scandinavia's social-democratic policies rest are not the product of socialism. In Scandinavian Unexceptionalism, a penetrating new book published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, Sanandaji shows that the Nordic nations' prosperity "developed during periods characterized by free-market policies, low or moderate taxes, and limited state involvement in the economy."
For example, Sweden was a poor nation for most of the 19th century (which helps explain the great wave of Swedish emigration to the United States in the 1800s). That began to change as Stockholm, starting around 1870, turned to free-enterprise reforms. Robust capitalism replaced the formerly agrarian system, and Sweden grew rich. "Property rights, free markets, and the rule of law combined with large numbers of well-educated engineers and entrepreneurs," Sanandaji writes. The result was an environment in which Swedes experienced "an unprecedented period of sustained and rapid economic development." In fact, between 1870 and 1936 Sweden had the highest growth rate in the industrialized world.
Scandinavia's hard-left turn didn't come about until much later. It was in the late 1960s and early 1970s that taxes soared, welfare payments expanded, and entrepreneurship was discouraged.
But what emerged wasn't heaven on earth.
That 1976 story in Time, for example, went on to report that Sweden found itself struggling with crime, drug addiction, welfare dependency, and a plague of red tape. Successful Swedes — most famously, Ingmar Bergman — were fleeing the country to avoid its killing taxes. "Growing numbers are plagued by a persistent, gnawing question: Is their Utopia going sour?"
Sweden's world-beating growth rate dried up. In 1975, it had been the 4th-wealthiest nation on earth (as measured by GDP per capita); by 1993, it had dropped to 14th. By then, Swedes had begun to regard their experiment with socialism as, in Sanandaji's phrase, "a colossal failure."
Denmark has come to a similar conclusion. Its lavish subsidies are being rolled back amid sharp concerns about welfare abuse and an eroding work ethic. In the last general election, Danes replaced a left-leaning government with one tilted to the right. Loving Denmark doesn't mean loving big-government welfarism.
The real key to Scandinavia's unique successes isn't socialism, it's culture. Social trust and cohesion, a broad egalitarian ethic, a strong emphasis on work and responsibility, commitment to the rule of law — these are healthy attributes of a Nordic culture that was ingrained over centuries. In the region's small and homogeneous countries (overwhelmingly white, Protestant, and native-born), those norms took deep root. The good outcomes and high living standards they produced antedated the socialist nostrums of the 1970s. Scandinavia's quality of life didn't spring from leftist policies. It survived them.
Sanandaji makes the acute observation that when Scandinavian emigrants left for the United States, those cultural attributes went with them and produced the same good effects. Scandinavian-Americans have higher incomes and lower poverty rates than the US average. Indeed, Danish-Americans economically outperform Danes still living in Denmark, as do Swedish-Americans compared with Swedes and Finnish-Americans compared with Finns. Scandinavian culture has been a blessing for native Scandinavians — and even more of one for their cousins across the ocean.
No, Scandinavia doesn't "violate the laws of the economic universe." It confirms them. With free markets and healthy values, almost any society will thrive. All socialism does is make things worse.
A Liberal’s Ten Commandments
The best way for liberals to advance their various causes would be to take a pledge to live the rather progressive lives that they advocate. Here are a modest Ten Commandments to lend them credibility in the eyes of the American people.
1. Climate Change. Perhaps the greatest carbon emission sin is jet travel. On an average London-to-New York flight each passenger emits well over 1 ton of C02 emissions, an indulgence that can nullify a year of recycling of other less-privileged Americans. All supporters of government-mandated reductions in fossil-fuel emissions could at least take the following pledge. “I will fly across the Atlantic no more than once every five years.” Private jet travel — the worst of the mortal carbon sins — of course would be banned, at least until we can transition into solar and wind aviation. Al Gore in the middle seat of Row 44, fighting to put his oversized carry-on into the overhead compartment, would be a symbolic act worth far more than all his heated and well-paid rhetoric.
2. Schools. Most liberals oppose charter schools, support teachers’ unions, and encourage generous immigration, legal and illegal. To further diversity in the schools, create easier integration, and to nullify the insidiousness of white privilege, each liberal should pledge, “I will put at least one of my children in an inner-city public school, or in a school where the white enrollment is in a minority.” What better way to acculturate a young elite to the new world around him? Could not the Obama children attend a D.C. public school?
3. Guns. Gun control is an iconic liberal issue, specifically limitations on handguns and concealed weapons. Too many guns in too many places supposedly encourage violent crime. Again, what better way to make a statement than by having all liberal celebrities, business people, and politicians take the following pledge: “I will pledge that no one in my security detail will ever carry a concealed firearm of any sort”? Surely the pope, of all people, did not need armed guards, with lethal concealed weapons, surrounding his pope-mobile?
4. Illegal Immigration. Liberals support the idea of unlimited immigration, legal or not. But the key for successful upward mobility for newly arrived immigrants, attested in nearly all studies, is integration and acculturation with American citizens. Therefore the following pledge seems ideal for any supporter of open borders: “I will socialize weekly with at least one illegal immigrant, whether inviting him to a sporting event, dinner, or recreational activity.” Were one upscale family to adopt an immigrant family from south of the border, the latter’s health care, legal, education, economic, and culture challenges might be alleviated. There are plenty of empty and mostly unused guest houses behind estates in Malibu and Santa Monica, and very few shelters for new arrivals: why not combine need and idleness — and help the helpless?
5. Sanctuary Cities. Most liberals support sanctuary cities and the idea of open borders, including the right of cities to nullify federal law. Why not pledge, “I will swear support for all American cities that choose to nullify any federal laws that they find oppressive and somehow contrary to the idea of America”? When a cattleman shoots a wolf, and a county sheriff guffaws and claims “that’s a federal problem, not mine,” then we will have come full circle to the sort of disasters that occur in San Francisco.
6. Diversity. “White privilege” and “black lives matters” are slogans that resonate with liberals. Both could be reified with a simple pledge: “I will live in a neighborhood in which at least one of my immediate neighbors is a non-white household.” In addition, why not eliminate the idea of a gated community altogether? Why send not-so-coded signals that the Other is not wanted? (Could not the Obama administration put a $1,000,000 luxury tax on each of a community’s exclusionary gates?)
7. Voting Laws. For liberals, driver’s license IDs are unnecessary for registration or even showing up at the polls to vote. Why, then, not cement that pledge by sanctifying the uselessness of such IDs in everyday life? “As proof of solidarity, I pledge that I will not use my own driver’s license ID either during any commercial purchase or at the airport security line — both being far more important than mere voting.”
8. The Environment. West Coast liberals should do something to alleviate the effect of the drought, given that they have cancelled most of the secondary phases of the California Water Project and released several million acre-feet of stored reservoir water into the ocean: “I pledge that I will not use any water that is stored in, and transferred at great costs from, a man-made, artificial reservoir, especially those at great distances built in sensitive areas such as Yosemite National Park.” There could even be an additional corollary: “I pledge that I will not waste precious water on my lawn or ornamental plants.” (One sees lots of new plastic, artificial lawns in Fresno, which has a vast aquifer, but almost none in Palo Alto and Atherton, which do not). Can one imagine Woodside or Los Altos with Astroturf?
9. The University. The university is a bastion of liberalism and therefore must reflect such progressive values. “I pledge to support no university whose rate of increase in annual tuition exceeds the rate of inflation or that pays different wages to different categories of professor for the exact same class taught.” Why not boycott Harvard or Berkeley, given that their part-time policies make Wal-Mart’s look enlightened?
10. Affirmative Action. Affirmative Action is a bedrock liberal issue, especially the idea of changing evaluation criteria on the basis of perceived social need. Why not strengthen a commitment to affirmative action in deed as well as word, given the insidious nature of white privilege that gives a leg up to white elite youth in a way impossible for the children of the Other? “I pledge that at least one of my children will enter a reverse affirmative action program by refusing admission to any school that admits only 10% of its applicants. Instead he will only enroll in a more egalitarian one that admits 90% of its applicants.” And for those who cannot live up to their rhetoric, why not at least a lesser oath, “I promise to use no backdoor pressure — alumni, legacy, private phone call, quid-pro-quo — to help my college-age children circumvent the admission process in a way that is unavailable to others”?
Given that these pledges do not reflect current liberal behavior, apparently abiding by them would mean that there would soon be no more liberals.
For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in). GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on A WESTERN HEART.
List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)
Posted by JR at 1:37 AM