Just when you think you heard it all, comes the latest Orwellian executive order from the White House.
President Obama has just signed an executive order authorizing the federal government to conduct behavioral experiments on U.S. citizens. Federal agencies have been directed to hire behavioral scientists and psychologists to experiment, and find ways to manipulate the American public into doing exactly what the federal government wants them to do.
The Executive Order, Titled “Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People” can be viewed here on the White House Website.
In part it reads:
A growing body of evidence demonstrates that behavioral science insights — research findings from fields such as behavioral economics and psychology about how people make decisions and act on them — can be used to design government policies to better serve the American people.
Where Federal policies have been designed to reflect behavioral science insights, they have substantially improved outcomes for the individuals, families, communities, and businesses those policies serve. For example, automatic enrollment and automatic escalation in retirement savings plans have made it easier to save for the future, and have helped Americans accumulate billions of dollars in additional retirement savings. Similarly, streamlining the application process for Federal financial aid has made college more financially accessible for millions of students.
According to the Daily Caller, this Orwellian executive order can be traced back to research by University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler and Harvard law school professor Cass Sunstein. In their 2008 book ‘Nudge,’ Thaler and Sunstein wrote about how the government could psychologically “nudge” citizens into performing certain behaviors. Cass Sunstein, a former colleague and mentor of President Obama’s at the University of Chicago Law School was appointed to be the United States regulatory Czar in 2009, where he ran the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
While most people have probably never heard of Cass Sunstein, his radical views have helped shape this and many other Obama administration policies. Sunstein has long argued that the government can use propaganda and behavioral experiments to trick the public into doing the government’s will. In fact, he wrote an op-ed in Bloomberg were he cited the Chinese education system as an example of how curriculum could be designed “to transform students’ political views.”
While working at the White House Sunstein also called for draconian limitations on the first amendment and argued that speech should be regulated online. He claimed that the uncensored internet was a threat to level-headed democratic governments, and proposed radical ideas like mandatory “electronic sidewalks,” which would display links to opposing views alongside all opinion-based content.
In his book Nudge, Sunstein called for installing a “Civility Check” program for all e-mails and other online communications. He Wrote:
“We propose a Civility Check that can accurately tell whether the e-mail you’re about to send is angry and caution you, ‘warning: this appears to be an uncivil e-mail. do you really and truly want to send it?’” he wrote. “(Software already exists to detect foul language. What we are proposing is more subtle, because it is easy to send a really awful e-mail message that does not contain any four-letter words.) A stronger version, which people could choose or which might be the default, would say, ‘warning: this appears to be an uncivil e-mail. this will not be sent unless you ask to resend in 24 hours.’ With the stronger version, you might be able to bypass the delay with some work (by inputting, say, your Social Security number and your grandfather’s birth date, or maybe by solving some irritating math problem!).”
The Federal Government’s Propaganda Teams
In a 2013 White House memo, the Obama administration admitted that they were putting together teams to experiment on the public.
“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 memo read.
That document cited behavioral examples from the U.K. which showed how the government was able to increase tax compliance by sending out letters which read “9 out of 10 people in Britain pay their taxes on time.” Those letters led to a 15 percent increase in compliance.
The new executive order encourages federal agencies to:
“identify policies, programs, and operations where applying behavioral science insights may yield substantial improvements in public welfare, program outcomes, and program cost effectiveness,” as well as to “develop strategies for applying behavioral science insights to programs and, where possible, rigorously test and evaluate the impact of these insights.”
A fact sheet created as part of this executive order, which can be viewed here on the White House Website, directs federal agencies to start tinkering with the language they use when communicating with the public. According to the Fact Sheet, behavioral scientists and researchers at numerous universities and think tanks — from MIT, Harvard, and the Brookings Institute, to name a few — have signed on to the program.