Randomizing for evil

The UK government pioneered the Behavioural Insights Team a unit that uses behavioral economics, psychology, and experiments to nudge people in important policy directions. There are now similar units in the White House and the World Bank.

Sound great to libertarian paternalists like me. And then, Aid thoughts points us to BIT’s latest update:

BIT has been working with the Home Office to consider new measures to help illegal migrants to voluntarily return home, focusing initially on engagement at reporting centres. Reporting centres are seen as an important but underutilised opportunity to prompt illegal migrants to consider whether leaving the UK voluntarily would be a preferable option in their circumstances.

…At this stage, the precise scope of a trial is still being finalised, with the aim to combine a number of behavioural elements to create a distinct reporting centre experience that encourages members of the reporting population to consider voluntary departure as an alternative to their current situation.


20 thoughts on “Randomizing for evil

  1. It’s not just them. The 2015 World Development Report on behavioural economics was noticeably silent on ethical issues. I recall two specific places in the report that could really have benefited from considering ethics:
    – Encouraging productivity inducing behaviour in individuals which adds to individuals’ stress, and
    – Proposing health-related ‘defaults’ which implicitly assumes “doctors know best” when this idea is contradicted later in the same chapter.

    In university-funded research, what kind of ethical analysis or approval (ie from an Ethics Committee) do you need?