Who is nudging the nudgers?

…They also reveal a problem at the very heart of Nudge theory: it assumes that our wise leaders will use their powers to nudge us for our own good. But why should we think they are any less self-deceived and irrational than the rest of us?

(In his book, The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life) Trivers cites fascinating research showing the extent to which power corrupts: experiments have shown that “when a feeling of power is induced in people, they are less likely to take others’ viewpoint and more likely to centre their thinking on themselves.” When this comes together with other widespread cognitive failings, such as an illusory sense of control and removal from the consequences of their actions, the result is politicians who are short-sighted, bellicose and focused on little beyond their own re-election.

And as Buonomano points out (in Brain Bugs: How the Brain's Flaws Shape Our Lives), history shows that when politicians do grasp the nature of our mental limitations, they are as likely to use this knowledge “to control public opinion, ensure loyalty and justify wars” as to nudge us into eating more salad. This is an image of our leaders with which the “Occupy” protesters in St Paul’s and around the world would readily agree. We might join them in asking: who is nudging the nudgers?

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Via @TimHarford