Tag Archives: Marcus Welsh

Rule by Nudge: Geographies of Libertarian Paternalism

By Martin Mahony

Much of the debate in the recent US election – when it hasn’t been explicitly focused on GDP and unemployment numbers – has concerned the role of the federal government in the lives of individual citizens. The debate is often cast in terms of ‘big government versus small government’, and the tensions within and between these positions were brought to light in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney was forced to retreat from previous comments he had made about reducing the role of the federal government in disaster relief, as plaudits rolled in for the performance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the hours and days following Hurricane Sandy’s landfall on the East Coast.

In the UK, conservative politicians are more likely to acknowledge the moral and social worth of a centrally-administered welfare system than their US counterparts. However, the debate becomes much more complex when it moves away from questions of taxation and finance and into the everyday realm of people’s behaviour and exercise of choice. Traditionally, conservative thinkers have seen the free-market as the best framework within which citizens can make decisions which add-up to a desirable and democratically legitimate outcome.

However, in light of realizations that human beings aren’t the ‘rational economic actors’ assumed by economic models, a new way of thinking has emerged. ‘Libertarian paternalism’ has come to occupy a central place in the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government’s thinking. In a new commentary piece in The Geographical Journal, Mark Whitehead and colleagues argue that David Cameron’s embracing of this philosophy (popularized by Thaler and Sunstein in their book Nudge) is as significant as Margaret Thatcher’s embracing of the free-market neoliberalism of Hayek.

In a blog post on the BBC website, documentary-maker Adam Curtis paints a picture of how behavioural psychology and behavioural economics have come together with emerging cognitive sciences of decision-making to constitute a new tool by which the (British) state seeks to govern its citizens. The idea of ‘nudging’ is that desirable behaviours can be promoted by subtly changing the ‘choice architecture’ within which people make decisions. For example, placing fruit in prominent positions in school canteens is thought to increase fruit consumption, but in a way which doesn’t force anyone to eat the fruit – the power to choose is, ostensibly, still in the hands of the child.

Whitehead et al.’s paper suggests that this philosophy is having a profound effect on the relationship between UK citizens and the state. It is also altering the spatial environments in which we live through the incorporation of ‘nudging’ into everything from urban planning policies to kitchen design. In the past, geographers have made profound contributions to the study of the ethical and political consequences of neoliberal thought. The ascent of libertarian paternalism now offers new challenges and opportunities for geographers as the spatial relationships between the rulers and the ruled are transformed by the rise of the nudge.

 Mitt Romney disaster relief position faces scrutinyThe Huffington Post, 31st October 2012

 From pigeon to Superman and back againBBC – Adam Curtis Blog, 21st October 2012

Mark Whitehead et al., 2012, Geography, libertarian paternalism and neuro-politics in the UK, The Geographical Journal 178 302-307

RGS-IBG New Content Alert: Early View Articles (25th May 2012)

The following Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Soil hydrodynamics and controls in prairie potholes of central Canada
T S Gala, R J Trueman and S Carlyle
Article first published online: 23 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01103.x

Paying for interviews? Negotiating ethics, power and expectation
Daniel Hammett and Deborah Sporton
Article first published online: 23 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01102.x

Domestication and the dog: embodying home
Emma R Power
Article first published online: 23 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01098.x

Adapting water management to climate change: Putting our science into practice

Runoff attenuation features: a sustainable flood mitigation strategy in the Belford catchment, UK
A R Nicholson, M E Wilkinson, G M O’Donnell and P F Quinn
Article first published online: 22 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01099.x

Commentary

Geography, libertarian paternalism and neuro-politics in the UK
Mark Whitehead, Rhys Jones, Jessica Pykett and Marcus Welsh
Article first published online: 21 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00469.x

Subaltern geopolitics: Libya in the mirror of Europe
James D Sidaway
Article first published online: 11 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00466.x

Original Articles

Faith and suburbia: secularisation, modernity and the changing geographies of religion in London’s suburbs
Claire Dwyer, David Gilbert and Bindi Shah
Article first published online: 22 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00521.x

Mobile nostalgias: connecting visions of the urban past, present and future amongst ex-residents
Alastair Bonnett and Catherine Alexander
Article first published online: 22 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00531.x

Dalits and local labour markets in rural India: experiences from the Tiruppur textile region in Tamil Nadu
Grace Carswell
Article first published online: 22 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00530.x

The Korean Thermidor: on political space and conservative reactions
Jamie Doucette
Article first published online: 18 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00528.x

‘Faith in the system?’ State-funded faith schools in England and the contested parameters of community cohesion
Claire Dwyer and Violetta Parutis
Article first published online: 18 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00518.x

The short-run impact of using lotteries for school admissions: early results from Brighton and Hove’s reforms
Rebecca Allen, Simon Burgess and Leigh McKenna
Article first published online: 16 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00511.x

Learning electoral geography? Party campaigning, constituency marginality and voting at the 2010 British general election
Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie
Article first published online: 16 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00527.x

Hidden histories made visible? Reflections on a geographical exhibition
Felix Driver
Article first published online: 16 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00529.x

‘Read ten thousand books, walk ten thousand miles’: geographical mobility and capital accumulation among Chinese scholars
Maggi W H Leung
Article first published online: 15 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00526.x