A Half-Thanks to Glenn Beck

Neo-Know Nothing Glenn Beck does us the service of highlighting the concept of “choice architects.” These are trained experts working behind the scenes to manipulate popular behaviors on behalf of secret agendas.

As always, Beck is too uninterested in reality to lay his hands on the bulk of the problem he thinks he sees:  His version is that government regulators are the main choice architects, and that governmental rules are the main venue for the imposition of elitist choice architecture.

Of course, the real story is that corporate marketing campaigns remain far and away the largest source of secret, cynical, heedless, and often sociopathic behavioral engineering.  In intentionality, tools, experience, funding, and ill effect, private-sector choice architects simply dwarf their public-sector counterparts.

This reality is, of course, a forbidden topic in Beck’s re-canned and over-heated version of the ruling ideology.  There, capitalists are nothing more and nothing less than servants of freedom.  Any fact or thought suggesting otherwise is treason, to such well-indoctrinated stooges.

decision-tree-small Meanwhile, if Beck ever bothered to remain open to understanding his own sources, he might’ve noticed that the main connection between private-sector choice architecture and public authority is Obama-buddy Cass Sunstein‘s rather silly careerist effort to convince government bureaucrats to take it seriously and start hiring from the stream of students he and his business school-based co-author are casting upon our troubled waters.  Indeed, an iota of thinking attention to their work confirms that big business marketing provides a very large share of the examples of the “libertarian paternalism” techniques they would like to see adopted as a tool in the public sector.

Meanwhile, have you ever wondered about the actual relationship between public rules and public welfare?  (If you read this blog, I assume you have.)  It isn’t quite what the capitalists and “libertarians” would have you believe.

Consider this description of 19th century English bread-selling regulations, from Bill Bryson’s newest book, At Home:

Because bread was so important, the laws governing its purity were strict and the punishments severe.  A baker who cheated his customers could be fined £10 per loaf sold, or made to do a month’s hard labor in prison.  For a time, transportation to Australia was seriously considered for malfeasant bakers.  This was a matter of real concern for bakers because every loaf of bread loses weight in baking through evaporation, so it is easy to blunder accidentally.

Beck and his fellow market totalitarians would be forced by their own ideology to insist that the results of this draconian state regulation must have been the utter collapse of bread-selling in Britain.  In fact, the result was this:

[Because of the harsh laws], bakers sometimes provided a little extra — the famous baker’s dozen.

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Excellent Post. When I was a young lad in school I became a libertarian but now I don’t believe that system would work in a modern age where people don’t know each other personally and if it did function at all I wouldn’t want to live under it. Libertarians would respond to your post saying customers would go to the honest bakers driving the dishonest ones out of business. When a business cheats, his competition will be tempted to cheat simply to remain in business. Before you know it we have a race to the bottom with marketers vying for… Read more »