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    By Cheryl  K. Chumley

The Washington  Times

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The White House has kicked off several federal projects aimed at influencing  how Americans react to certain policy reforms, going so far as to solicit  behavior experts to join a British-style “Behavioral Insights Team” to help  nudge voters into accepting key political programs.

“Behavioral sciences can be used to help design public policies that work  better, cost  less and help  people to achieve their goals,” a document on the government program states, Fox  News reported.

The document, emailed by White House senior adviser Maya Shankar and obtained  by Fox News, also seeks applicants to join the federal government’s behavior  modification team.

England already has one such group; it’s called the “Behavioral Insights  Team,” and has recently recommended to the government how best to compel Brits  to pay their taxes, Fox News reported.

The main thrust of the White House-backed group: To “experiment” with ways to  control, sway and tweak Americans’ behaviors so they do everything from saving  more money for  retirement to curbing energy uses and trimming energy costs, Fox News  reported.

The new program has already been used in conjunction with Department of  Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture policies, Fox News said.  And it hails from ideas discussed years ago, most notably on the heels of  publication of a 2008 book written by President Obama’s former regulatory czar,  Cass Sunstein, who referred to such government actions as “nudges.”

Advocates say nudging helps move the  political process along, absent regulation. But detractors say nudging relies on  inaccurate data to drive Americans into compliance.

“I am very skeptical of a team promoting nudge policies,” said Michael  Thomas, an economist at Utah State University, to Fox News. “Ultimately, nudging  … assumes a small group of people in government know better about choices that  the individuals making them.”

And sometimes, that small group of people actually promotes something that’s  wrong — for instance, when small teams of scientists argued at one point that  trans-fats were actually more healthful than saturated and unsaturated fats, he  said.

“Now we know this is an error,” Mr. Thomas said, in the Fox News  report.

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