Why not include behavioal approaches in Indian policymaking?

One does not know why really.

Debhashish Basu of Moneylife says by nature people are lazy, selfish & vain. We should be aware of these traits while making policy.

famously said: “All writers are vain, selfish and lazy”. He could have said this for almost the entire human race. There are many altruistic people, and most of us sometimes do not fit this characterisation, but these are undoubtedly our default traits. Anybody who tries to persuade the public to behave in a certain manner must accept them or risk failure; or at the very least, be prepared for a long hard slog. The has understood this very well and created billion-dollar businesses that millions of people use daily for a cab ride (Uber), purchases (Amazon), information (Google) or other social purposes (Facebook, Twitter). Can intelligent policymakers and well-meaning politicians, who try to persuade millions to either clean up garbage, follow traffic rules, stop taking or giving bribes, learn from them? Lets first look at these characteristics.

As we tend to copy whatever west does in economic policies, there is an incentive to copy. British are already doing it:

Policymakers in some countries have understood this. The UK set up the “Nudge Unit” inside 10 Downing Street to make public services more cost-effective and easier to use, and to improve outcomes by introducing a more realistic model of human behaviour to policy. It has morphed into a social purpose company called The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) which is jointly owned by the UK government, Nesta (the innovation charity) and its employees. BIT tests its ideas before they are scaled up, exactly the way websites test their approaches. This enables it to understand what works and (importantly) what does not work. Why not include this sensible approach in Indian policymaking based on the three human traits?

India is where these human traits become craziest as well. There is so much diversity. What is broadly acceptable to one could be abhorred by the next door neighbour.

Now, one is not asking the government to get too paternalistic as it could easily be the case. But we must try and atleast point to these behavioural issues while designing or advocating policies. We need to have more research and writing on these issues here.


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