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Of course, the Government can hardly lecture the banks on efficiency, if it does nothing to improve its own.

When it came to power, the Coalition promised to do ‘more with less’ – and one of the ways it proposed to do so was through the application of behavioural economics, which basically means working with the grain of human nature.

The Behavioural Insight Team – otherwise known as the ‘Nudge Unit’ – was set up to advance this agenda. So, what have they been up to? The Economist’s Free Exchange blog has a useful update:

  • The Nudge Unit has been running dozens of experiments and the early results have been promising. In one trial, a letter sent to non-payers of vehicle taxes was changed to use plainer English, along the line of “pay your tax or lose your car”. In some cases the letter was further personalised by including a photo of the car in question. The rewritten letter alone doubled the number of people paying the tax; the rewrite with the photo tripled it.

Another trial found that people were three times more likely to get their homes insulated if it was made clear that, in the process, their lofts would be cleaned out for them and their unwanted clutter taken away.

Some people might think this is all rather trivial, while others might bridle at any official attempt to manipulate our behaviour. But, as the Economist’s anonymous blogger argues, it might just lead to more competent policy making:

  • “If nothing else, the nudge revolution encourages the use by government of plain language; favours the design of policies that actually take account of real-world behaviour; and allows the testing of ideas on a small scale before wider implementation.”

After the fiasco of the fuel panic, a better understanding of human behaviour would be no bad thing.

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