Today's Politicos vs The Words and Deeds of The Founders
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Public Servants – Who’s Serving Who?

If the army of propagandists, appropriately named the Navigator Program, (see Is Our Government at War With Us?) doesn’t steer the 47% of Americans opposed to the Affordable Care Act to enrollment, there is a back-up plan.

The federal government is now hiring a “Behavioral Insights Team” to find ways to manage citizen behavior.

Psychologist B.F. Skinner coined the term operant conditioning in 1948 to refer to any behavior that generates consequences. For example, the promise of a reward spurs a child to complete his or her homework in a timely manner.

rat Skinner used a special cage (the Skinner box) to train a rat to do what Skinner wanted it to do. The cage had a bar on one wall that, when pressed by the rat, caused a mechanism to release a food pellet. The rat learned to press the bar and get his pellets. Behavioral scientists call that “positive reinforcement.’

The Obama administration has been exchanging “pellets” for votes since it came to power. Count among the pellets increased food stamp enrollment (see A Country On The Dole), (due in no small measure to the huckstering of the USDA) free cell phones (see Panem et Circenses), government “investment” in “green” companies and most recently the announcement that Obama Care will not verify consumer eligibility for subsidies.

But I digress. The focus now is on “scientifically” managing behavior.

Obama’s Behavior Insights Team is going to research ways to reinforce “good” behaviors (the ones the government approves). It already knows about negative reinforcement as the individuals and groups targeted by the IRS and other federal agencies can testify (and have).

According to a document obtained by Fox News.com,

The White House is already working on such projects with almost a dozen federal departments and agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture.

The above information was obtained from an email sent by Maya Shankar, a White House senior advisor on social and behavioral sciences.

Senior advisor? How many advisors on social and behavioral science are there? Whatever their number, apparently they are too “essential” to qualify for sequester.

The email was sent to a university professor with the request that he distribute it to people interested in “joining the team.”

The project is based on a program already operating in Great Britain. The email  states in part::

A growing body of evidence suggests that insights from the social and behavioral sciences can be used to help design public policies that work better, cost less, and help people to achieve their goals. The practice of using behavioral insights to inform policy has seen success overseas. In 2010, UK Prime Minister David Cameron commissioned the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), which through a process of rapid, iterative experimentation (“Test, Learn, Adapt”), has successfully identified and tested interventions that will further advance priorities of the British government, (emphasis ours) while saving the government at least £1 billion within the next five years (see previous Annual Reports 2010-11 and 2011-12). The federal government is currently creating a new team that will help build federal capacity to experiment with these approaches, and to scale behavioral interventions that have been rigorously evaluated, using, where possible, randomized controlled trials. The team will be staffed by 4-5 experts in behavioral science and experimental design and evaluation.

The email goes on to say that although part time applicants will be considered,  “Our preference is for individuals who are willing to serve full time…”

nudgeMoreover, several agencies are looking to recruit expert academics to sit directly within their agencies and to help inspire, design, and execute on specific policy projects, and so it is possible to serve in this capacity as well…

So, having pushed Obama Care and other programs and regulations down our collective throats, we must now learn to love them.

This project is the logical extension of the Marxist theory that human behavior can be improved  (controlled) by selectively altering the environment. It assumes, as other critics have observed, that government can make better choices than the people who will be affected by them.

Behavioral science has more tools now than in Skinner’s day, due in part to the voluntary gush of personal information on social media and the government’s ability, recently revealed, to ferret out the involuntary. All of which provide “behavioral insights” useful for efficient “operant conditioning.”

Perhaps this commentator is not alone in thinking that the attempt to “scientifically” control Americans  is inherently insulting. It is also politically contradictory. The term “government service” means that government is employed by and does the bidding of citizens, not the other way around.

That is not to say that a majority of Americans will succumb to manipulation.

However, a majority isn’t necessary if combined with the number already hooked on government pellets.

On the bright side, (this is the bright side?) the project may be a costly flop. After all, this is the same federal behemoth that runs FEMA with such efficiency.

The object of power is power. – George Orwell, 1984

obama-german-poster

Dan Henninger recently wrote a WSJ column titled Obama’s Creeping Authoritarianism.  Henninger observed that the president’s authoritarianism does not surprise. In 2008, candidate Obama stated he would “transform America” and he is doing exactly that. Obama voters did not bother to ask him what he meant or how he intended its accomplishment. Now, he is again stating his intentions.

“Toward the end of his speech last week in Jacksonville, Fla., he said: “So where I can act on my own, I’m going to act on my own. I won’t wait for Congress.” (Applause.)<

“The July 24 speech at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., has at least four references to his intent to act on his own authority, as he interprets it: “That means whatever executive authority I have to help the middle class, I’ll use it.” (Applause.) And: “We’re going to do everything we can, wherever we can, with or without Congress.”

Henninger points out that in both speeches Obama vilifies Congress much as he did the judiciary in his 2010 State of the Union address and continues to do when the court renders decisions he doesn’t like.

“The political left, historically inclined by ideological belief to public policy that is imposed rather than legislated, will support Mr. Obama’s expansion of authority.

“The rest of us should not.  The U.S. has a system of checks and balances. Mr. Obama is rebalancing the system toward a national-leader model that is alien to the American tradition.

Vilifying those who seek to constrain him is a well-worn Obama technique. The result being that federal agencies, whether by explicit direction (so far not proved) or by example, have assumed that using their regulatory powers against those individuals and groups publicly demonized by the president will earn White House Brownie points.

The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse. -Edmund Burke

John H. Cochrane, professor of finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, writes about E-Verify, a central provision of the Senate immigration bill and a further extension of federal power.

“If this part of the bill passes, all employers will be forced to use government-run Web-based system that check potential employees immigration status. That means every American will have to obtain the federal government’s prior approval in order to earn a living.”

Although seemingly harmless now, he warns, “missions creep and bureaucracies expand.”

“Permission to work inevitably will rely at least in part on he judgment calls of an army of bureaucrats. Political abuse is just as inevitable. Consider Catherine Engelbrecht, reportedly harassed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, all for starting a Tea Party group.“

In The Roots of American Order, Russell Kirk provides a succinct description of the Founder’s plan to thwart tyranny.

“The men who drew up the Constitution declared that they had framed a government of laws, not men; and of laws which must be applied on a regular and impartial process. Stability and security in the Republic, and protection of the citizens against arbitrary power, received equal attention in the Constitution.”

The Founders also understood that without an enlightened citizenry who value liberty, the Constitution is just the outdated parchment the president says it is.

 

constitution

2 comments

1 Ann Herzer { 08.10.13 at 10:55 am }

Great article. I have been doing research on Skinner and his method since 1978. Behavioral control is running rabid in schools and our society.

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2 Curtice Mang { 08.10.13 at 10:21 pm }

As usual the elite thinkers (the Nudge Bunch!) believe they hold all the answers, if only the rest of the minions will play along. So, they believe they can mold millions of individual opinions into any direction they choose. “Hey”, they might say, “We got ‘em to elect Barack Obama – twice.” (Alright, they’ve got me on that one.)

[Reply]

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