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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  October 6, 2021 4:30am-5:00am BST

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our top stories: a former facebook employee tells the us congress the social media giant is harming children, stoking division, and weakening democracy. frances haugen said the company chose profits over its users. the government of california has called for an end to offshore drilling following an oil spill. a spokesperson says it needs to and reliance on fossil fuels and it's thought it was resulted from a rupture in the pipeline. a russian actress has gone to the international space station to fill in space. actress yulia peresild and filmmaker klim shipenko will be filming.
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now on bbc, it's time for hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. from covid to climate change, governments around the world face challenges which demand modifications of human behaviour. when it comes to getting people to do things differently, what works best, the character of persuasion or the stick of coercion? well, my guest today is richard thaler the world—renowned economist and scientist, who believes a nudge often works better than a shove when change is needed. does that hold good when the problems we face become urgent and existential?
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richard thaler in chicago, welcome to hardtalk. happy to be here. well, we're delighted to have you. would it be fair to say, professor thaler that you think we humans make consistently pretty poor choices? um, i would revise that slightly, i would say we often make poor choices. i think it's foolish to sort of give an overall grade. you know, we are the smartest species as far as we can tell but we do some pretty dumb stuff.
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and who is to judge what is dumb and not dumb? well, we can start with ourselves. so you know, i needed to be in the office a bit earlier than usual today so i set an alarm. i knew i would sleep too long if i didn't give myself a reminder. so our goal has always been to improve decisions of people as judged by themselves. right. it seems to me you've devoted a great deal of your professional life to the idea of making it easier for all of us to make better decisions. your book, nudge, first came out about 13 years ago and it has had a huge impact around the world. do you think in the intervening
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13 years, now that you've written an updated version, do you think there are signs we, as a species, are beginning to make better decisions? no, no. you know, species don't change very rapidly and the world has not gotten any easier. the only way in which we started to make better decisions is through better technology. so our favourite example of good choice architecture is gps and we have terrible senses of direction, and the fact that we have a gps in our pocket and in our cars means we get lost less often. so, yes, we are making must better decision geographically. but are we now better able to choose the best mortgage
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or figure out how much to save for retirement or exercise enough and eat less? no, no, no. your point about gps is very interesting because it seems to me we need to talk about trust. and when people step into their cars or they are walking down the street and there lost it seems very easy to trust the technology in a gps system. but you also work with governments and you try to get governments to send messages to the public which will get them to behave in wiser ways. but i would put it to you that trust in government has been eroded in recent years and that must be a profound problem. that is a profound problem and it's a problem for both government and for business. for 13 years, i've been signing copies of the book and people ask me to "nudge for good".
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and that's a plea. and the only way to nudge for good is it to earn the trust. so we've learned to follow the instructions of our gps because it's usually right. and if the government starts nudging us to do things that are not in our best interests or that we don't think are in our best interest then we will lose that trust. and the same for companies. but it's even deeper than that is in it? some politicians peddle a message which says explicitly you shouldn't trust the government, governments do bad things of the individual needs to think for themselves and notjust take the guidance of the central power. indeed, you worked with the united kingdom and what leading conservative minister i'm sure
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you worked with them, michael gove, once famously said that the public has had enough of experts. that brings its own set of problems, doesn't it? well, i never had the pleasure of dealing with him and i think there is a quite a bit of difference between the cameron administration and the johnson administration. i think saying things like that is completely dysfunctional for the government. the only way to succeed is to get the citizens to believe that the government is acting in their best interest and a good way to accomplish that is to start acting in their best interest. so for example, arranging a divorce without a prenup is a bad idea if you are a country. i take it you're referring to brexit. yes.
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well interestingly, the guy who hired you to give some advice to the uk government then prime minister david cameron, he was the leader who took the decision to give every briton a right to vote in a referendum on whether or not to leave the european union. he clearly trusted that he could nudge the public into making the choice he thought was the right ones which was to say but he got that very wrong, didn't he? he got that about half a percent wrong. he lost out to one of the most brilliant and devious politicians on earth which is dom cummings. and the phrase "take back control. "was evil and brilliant. and there is a video of him explaining how he uses the concept of behavioural economics to form that phrase, take backs get people
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thinking about losses. and the idea that withdrawing from the eu was going to increase the united kingdoms control was preposterous to begin with and anybody who is still searching for petrol may have a sense of how it's worked out. since brexit governments around the world have faced a much more urgent challenge and that is a global pandemic. what do you think the lessons of the pandemic have been about the balance between nuanced nudge style policies to get public modification of behaviour and more coercive mandated policies? here's my conclusion, is that the tools have to reflect the problem at hand. so the general principle is, any problem, any societal
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problem nudges and choice architecture can play a helpful role. but there's almost no problem that can be completely solved simply with light handed interventions. so when it comes to dealing with a pandemic, let's say vaccine take—up, i've seen three stages in this process. in the first stage there wasn't enough vaccine to go around. and so the main government problem was deciding who gets to go first. the second stage we had to deal with the hesitant and a procrastinators and nudging could play an important role, make it easy is our mantra, take the vaccine to the people, make it as easy as possible
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to get an appointment and so forth and so on. we've now reached a third stage where the unvaccinated have fairly strong opinions, some of them miss informed by various sources. and those people are making everyone else worse off. so i believe we've reached a stage where mandates are appropriate. my university has adopted a mandate, every student and every faculty member must be vaccinated. in terms of behavioural science and your long experience of what motivates humans and what works best, would it be wise to offer inducements for those recalcitrant people to get vaccinated?
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we know that in some american states they are being offered everything from cash to, in one state the option of getting a gun. two other sort of blandishments and inducements, is that the right way to go? i think, generally speaking, putting a price on getting a vaccine either in kind or in money is probably a bad idea. and the reason is,
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there are two reasons, one, it's very hard to judge what the right price should be. if it's too low people will say "why should i bother". and if it's large then we are going to run into a problem of... i'm at the age that i'm ready to get a booster and if there is going to be another round of vaccinations do we want people waiting around until they start to pay people to get there booster? i don't think so. so i prefer the sticks of the following sort. the national football league, our version — american football has got a 95% vaccination rate among its players and it did it with less then mandates and no cash rewards. but you don't get treated as well if you are unvaccinated. and if you test positive you are going to have to quarantine instead of just take another test. right. i just wonder whether covid is perhaps taught us that may
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be behavioural scientists have become too important in certain countries. certainly in the uk there was this sort of feeling in march 2020 that the government was listening very carefully to a bunch of behavioural scientists were saying look, don't go too early to put down strict restrictions on how people can socialise, social distancing, don't mandate all of the stuff too early because if you do people will tyre of it quickly and the whole system will break down. it turns out that just a few weeks later as the epidemic in the uk was spreading the government changed its mind. and the rules certainly then became mandated and social distancing in a whole bunch of other measures were put in place. but maybe the behavioural scientist got it wrong and they are too powerful. is that well, first of all i don't know of any government where behavioural scientists have a very big policymaking role.
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certainly in the uk the behavioural insight team never had any decision—making power. and as far as what went on in march 2020, if there's anybody who didn't say something that looked stupid now during that month, let them raise her hand. the real problem with behavioural inside teams that i've worked with around the world is they are usually given much too small a mandate in the sense that... all they're allowed to do is what i would call tweak. they get to change the wording that will be used in some programme. they don't get to design the entire choice architecture. it's when you can do that, when you can build the gps system then you can really help people.
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we will have people watching the show around the world who will be fascinated what you're saying about behavioural science but are there really any universal characteristics to this? you do get hired as an adviser by different governments right around the world. but cultures and morays varies so widely across the world, do you really have the confidence that you can go in and know enough about a culture to know what will be ineffective knowledge of what will not? well, let me rephrase. the word "hire", i've never taken a dollar or a pound from any government, but the answer to your question is both yes and no. so humans all can benefit from decisions being made easier and more transparent. the precise cultural norms do differ from one country to another.
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but that's why the locals are going to have a better sense of how the system works on the ground. yesterday, i was talking to some people from japan, i wouldn't say that the policies that would be adopted there would be precisely the same as the ones that would be adopted in the uk, but what i will say is people are more similar than they are different. yes, there are cultural differences but everybody has got self—control problems. everyone has difficult with complex mathematical problems. we can make decision—making easier globally. i'm interested not byjust trust but transparency too. do people need to know how
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public policy makers are trying to modify their behaviours in certain ways? there are certain well known sort of case studies in behaviour modification was up simple ones like putting an image of a fly in a urinal to make men pee, urinate more efficiently to help in terms of hygiene in public toilets, that's one. another would be placing fruit and veg in more prominent places in supermarkets so that people are more tempted by it and will buy it more routinely. that's a simple win. but sometimes there are things being done by public policymakers that the public is not aware of. it's a sort of subliminal process at the policymaker is trying to carry out to change public behaviours, and can that be dangerous? well, i think if people were actually doing subliminal interventions — we say in the book that we oppose that. we're in favour, of
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transparency, and in the vast majority of cases as including the examples that you mentioned, the fly etched in the urinal is... the whole point is that men see it, and virtually all nudges are visible to the participant — that's what they are there for. those signs in central london on the sidewalk reminding us to look right, because you guys continue to drive on the wrong side of the road, have saved my life on numerous occasions. now, if those are painted in invisible ink, i would be dead.
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laughs i take that point. your updated version of nudge does address the climate change challenge. ijust wonder if both you and cass sunstein have concluded that climate change is too urgent, too big, too structural a problem for us as a species for the sort of tactics or knowledge and gentle persuasion to be effective. no, on the contrary. so here's what we say, is that... i said something like this earlier, nudge is part of the solution to any problem. we like, you know, i'm still in economist although some people say i've lost my credentials. like every economist in the world, i think we need to start with getting the prices right. so i think we need a global carbon tax or carbon trade system.
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as long as emissions are free, there will be too much of them. there is no economist on earth that disagrees with that. and sweden has shown us that it's possible to do this and still have a healthy economy. that's not to say that nudges can't help. automatically enrolling people into a green energy source increases enrollments by 50 percentage points. telling people how much energy they're using compared to their neighbours reduces energy useage by two or three percent. that may seem like a small number but, as president obama used to like to say, better is good, meaning every two percent helps. so we are not going to get
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to where we need to go only with nudging and only with choice architecture, but it can help. but let's start by getting the prices right. so nudging and coercion in certain cases, and certainly climate would be one, would be one need to live side—by—side? we need a complete... notice getting the prices right doesn't involve coercion. that's letting people decide whether they want... no but— 0k, fair enough, but banning the combustion engine, as many governments are now looking to do by 2035 or 2050 or whatever, that's certainly going to involve coercion because if you continue to drive a patrol car, you're going to be punished. well, i think that those policies are adopted because politicians of both parties, or both whatever sides, are afraid to
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say the word "tax". and i personally would much prefer to set the prices right for petrol and then let people buy whatever kind of car they want. and if the prices get high enough, people will drive electric cars. personally, i drive an electric car and nobody made me do it. just a final thought, do you worry that nudge is losing its power in an age which you've acknowledged is full of scepticism and mistrust? maybe people around the world react more simply and maybe sometimes better to coercion and the application of simple authority than they do to your nudge.
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uh, no, i don't think so. as i said, we as a species don't change very much. we started talking about gps, i find itjust as useful as i did ten years ago and it's gotten better. it now tells me what lane i should be getting in to anticipate the next turn. so we can make everything in life easier by providing the equivalent of gps for all the hard decisions in life, and people will gladly accept those. if we try to sneakily go around and manipulate them, whatever that means, then they may react adversely. but that's not something that cass and i ever endorse. richard thaler, we have
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to end it there. thank you very much forjoining me on hardtalk. my pleasure. hello there. wednesday looks like it's going to be a drier, brighter day for many parts of the uk. a vast improvement over what we saw on tuesday. the northeast of england was particularly badly affected by the rain. it was about a month's worth of rain falling in 2a hours. throughout the day, it was a pretty wet too across eastern parts of scotland. the low pressure that brought the rain and the strong winds is moving out of the way. we've got the next atlantic weather system coming in to the west and in between
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the two, a small window of drier weather and some sunshine. with clearer skies to start the day across large parts of scotland and northern ireland, pretty chilly out there. for eastern parts of england, there's more rain around still and it's lighter by the morning, the rain should move away. those northerly winds will gradually ease and the cloud eventually break up. we've got this slice of dry weather and sunshine, but western areas are going to be clouding over steadily and we've got some rain in the afternoon particularly across northern ireland. ahead of that, something a bit warmer than today across much of england and wales. it could be quite chilly in the evening with the clearer skies in eastern england and out to the west though, the cloud is coming in, thickening up to bring some rain into western scotland and that will tend to lift the temperatures, as well. as we head into the end of the week, it is a complete turnaround really because there is much warmer weather on the way and that is because the winds are going to be coming in all the way around the tropics and bringing in those higher temperatures, bringing in the moisture in the form of cloud and we've still got the weather front just draped across the northwestern part of the uk to bring some rain.
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that is mainly affecting northern and western scotland during thursday, some heavier rain for argyle and highland. some rain threatens northern ireland could be a bit of damp, drizzly weather across western parts of england and wales. brighter skies further east. but despite a lot of cloud on thursday, look at these temperatures. 19 in belfast, could make 20 in newcastle, much, much warmer than it was on tuesday. the winds will be lighter for england and wales on friday, could be some fog in the morning through the midlands towards the southeast of england and lifting to bring some sunny spells, still a threat of rain in the northwest parts of the uk with some sunshine at times. and those temperatures again widely 18 to 21 c. the next question is how long will it last? saturday looks quite warm for many. some rain in scotland and northern ireland. as the weekend goes on, it will gradually cool down from the north.
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and they are too powerful.
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welcome to bbc news. our top stories: eu leaders meet in slovenia, holding tough talks on europe's place in the world and relations with china and the us since the first gathering in june. translation: ~ , , ., translation: we must build a stronuer translation: we must build a stronger europe. _ translation: we must build a stronger europe. that - translation: we must build a stronger europe. that is - translation: we must build a stronger europe. that is what i | stronger europe. that is what i deeply believe in, a europe which takes a share for itself and can choose its partners and work closely with historical allied. g work closely with historical allied. �* ., allied. a former facebook employee _ allied. a former facebook employee tells _ allied. a former facebook employee tells the - allied. a former facebook employee tells the us - allied. a former facebook - employee tells the us congress the social media giant is harming children, stoking division and weakening democracy.— division and weakening democra . , ., ,
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democracy. facebook repeatedly encounter profits _ democracy. facebook repeatedly encounter profits and _ encounter profits and accountability.

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