Imagine two people. One immediately opens the envelopes, fills out all forms and pays the bills on the spot. He has no appetite and has savings. The second person is different. They want to stick to rules, deadlines, and good intentions, but that’s not always possible. Sometimes he does things that you might call irrational or antisocial.
The first person is the citizen that policymakers see in The Hague, says Will Timiger, a researcher at the Scientific Council for Government Policy and professor of behavioral sciences and politics at Erasmus University. This citizen is intrepid and responsible: he pursues his own interests, but also thinks about society. Not a bad day went by – Citizen One is sane 24/7.
The second is the citizen as it is. sometimes disciplined, sometimes less; Full of good intentions and personal weaknesses. Or actually “citizen” is not a good term at all, in Timiger’s opinion, because every citizen is not the same as the other. Some people are good at thinking ahead and have self-discipline, others are less so.
Timiger says politics is not well geared to this reality. This is because when it’s plotted, there aren’t any behavioral scientists on the table. On Friday, Timiger, originally a communications scientist but now versed in psychology, will discuss in his inaugural lecture to engage psychologists and behavioral economists in designing new policy.
“For about ten years, ideas from the behavioral sciences have been used more and more,” Tiemeijer says a week before his inaugural lecture at the WRR Building opposite Binnenhof. The financial crisis has heightened interest in irrationality. And in 2008 came the book Pay About ways in which you can subtly influence the behavior of citizens. But this alert is used to improve the current policy. If this policy is fundamentally flawed, you can reach out and pay until it weighs an ounce.”
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Where does this unrealistic view of the citizen lead?
“You can clearly see from the allowance system how things can go wrong. The system is built on the idea that people realize that they might have to pay something back after a few years, and so put aside a little money if that happens. But not everyone has this. Restraint or can afford it. The whole system is not psychologically well put together. Another example is the assumption that if people pass incorrect information to the UWV, it will be evidence of bad faith. The idea that sometimes people don’t understand exactly what’s going on , or make a mistake under pressure, are not well addressed in this way of thinking.”
You say that the government is based on adventurous and responsible citizens. Aren’t these two traits at odds with each other anyway?
Yes, they don’t always go well. Conflicting demands are placed on the shoulders of people. But my main point is not to show that tension, but to show what they have in common: the idea that you can think well about the future and adjust your behavior from the far point of view of the future.”
Does this idea come from man as he is or as he should be?
There is some ambiguity in classical economics, on which it depends in part. Economists sometimes say: Half people are the same. And sometimes they say it’s right I assume They are correct, because you can make good predictions with them. However, concrete policy recommendations are derived from these assumptions. Look at the liberalization of the taxi market in the 1990s. The idea was: people then look for the most suitable price-quality ratio. Well, get out of the station and you’re in a hurry and you know: it doesn’t work that way. Apart from the fact that not everyone has the talent and desire to negotiate with a taxi driver. As a result, taxiing has not only become cheaper and better, it has become more expensive and worse.”
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In your opening lecture, you said that some characteristics are more difficult to learn than are now assumed. What personality traits do you really have a head start on as a citizen?
“Self-control, for example. The ability to regulate your impulses and resist temptation is often just as important as cognitive skills like intelligence. The same goes for imagining your future, also known as mental time travel. Like intelligence, these traits are very much A matter of genes. There is a normal distribution: some have a lot, some have a little, and the most in between.”
Besides genes, what else affects them?
“What is offered to you in the early years of your life since you grew up. It also has to do with the environment you grew up in. For the middle class people, the deal is: if you work hard now and study well, later life will reward you with a good job, a nice family, etc. This bargain does not apply to people in certain sectors of society. If you grow up in an environment where life is not up to the bargain, you internalize that. And then you are more likely to develop a relative orientation now.”
Is there nothing else that can be done?
“It’s not that people are defined for the rest of their lives, but that the older you get, the harder it is to change them.”
Do you think that characteristics such as self-control are more present in policy makers?
Yes, people who make policy generally have relatively high intelligence, and I think they would also do relatively well on those non-cognitive characteristics. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have reached this position.”
Could this explain their rosy view of the citizen?
“It will certainly play a role. Everyone tends to think that most people will be like him without telling them otherwise. This also applies to policy makers in The Hague. Many debt problem policies are based on the idea that people continue to do rational things. Debt problems they ended up in debt in part because they weren’t very good at planning, calculating, and sticking to decisions in the first place.”
What do you suggest changing it?
Lawyers and economists often sit at policy tables where major decisions are made, as in a coalition agreement. I wish there was also someone who represented the behavioral sciences perspective. It’s all a nice idea, he says, but does that fit in with how people are brought together? Psychologists have little access to the world of politics and politics. I’ve also seen it with aura. The virologists were at Catshuis, but the ethologists were not. While this problem has a prominently behavioral scientific aspect.”
At what point did a behavioral scientist advise doing things differently?
“For example, when all the rules were canceled at once this summer. And also in the field of communication. Recently, De Jonge said very firmly at a press conference: Vaccinate yourself, because it is good for your citizens. The assumption was that skeptics of the vaccine do not realize it. But many People who don’t want to be vaccinated know that they can infect others. Their point is: I don’t trust this vaccine. I thought: Government, are you now digging a little bit better into your target group.”
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Has the government also overestimated the amount of self-restraint people have in the Corona crisis?
“I have seen sometimes that the government has thought, if people don’t follow the rules correctly: they don’t want to. But knowledge hasn’t yet. The fact that people don’t always follow the rules doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t subscribe to them, but that’s hard. He can’t. People think about everything at once and are always in control, but their intentions are often good. I think this is an insight, because it leads to a more positive view of people.”
A version of this article also appeared on NRC on the morning of October 22, 2021
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