August 12 2013
Maya Shankar may be a nice young woman.
But I don’t want her telling me what to do.
Unfortunately, I may have no choice in the matter.
Ms. Shankar, 26, has been hired by the White House to help us benighted Americans make better choices. Kyle Smith of the New York Post describes Ms. Shankar as a “26-six-year-old paternalist” and compares her job to belonging to Best Buy’s Geek Squad.
Except that you hire the Geek Squad because you want them to do something for you. Ms. Shankar is the new senior policy advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. This technology will be used to help us make better choices. I can hardly wait! Smith writes:
The idea for this new political-academic bureaucracy sprang from the “Nudge” philosophy handed down on stone tablets from Mount Dogooder, and published in book format, by President Obama’s former University of Chicago colleague Cass Sunstein (who is married to another Obama crony, Samantha Power; their children will of course be top aides in the administration of President Malia Obama).
“Nudge” won Sunstein a job as the chief of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, where he worked from 2009-12. His book theorized that government officials could get Americans to live their lives more optimally, at no cost, by making little changes that would adjust for people’s inherent laziness.
Famous example: When you get a job, what if the default were that you automatically sign up for the 401(k)? If you don’t want it, you check the “no” box, but it’s designed to promote saving.
Sounds reasonable. Affordable. And admirably modest.
Yet by the time Sunstein stepped down in 2012, he was boasting in a Harvard working paper that OIRA’s central responsibilities, as defined by Obama’s Executive Order 13563, amounted to “a kind of mini-constitution for the regulatory state.”
That sounds a bit immodest. And aren’t constitutions, even cute mini- ones, supposed to come up for a vote?
Mayor Bloomberg is cited as a perfect example of the government Nudge. He likes calorie counts on foods in restaurants even though studies show that such counts have no effect on what people actually eat. Shankar, “an indefatigable champion of social justice,” will be in charge of other such Nudges.
I hate to quote at such length but I can’t resist sharing Shankar's resume with you. Our new Nudge Czar is is pure New Class, the superior class that thinks it can make decisions for people who aren't smart enough to make them for themselves:
Shankar is a former violin prodigy who performed with Itzhak Perlman at Juilliard. Inflamed tendons caused her to put down her fiddle, and now the United States is her instrument. So get ready to be played.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Shankar went on to Yale (where she studied cognitive science), Oxford and Stanford.
It would appear that she has never had an actual job unless you count “post-doctoral fellow.”
Shankar is not without accomplishments, though. She is a Rhodes scholar with a killer sense for publicity. She’s been featured on NPR three times and in Glamour and USA Today roundups of the nation’s most promising college students.
In Glamour, in 2006, she said her dream job would be presidential science adviser. So it has come to pass: For her first job, she is now “senior policy advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.”
That’s right. Senior. This person was a senior at Yale as of 2007, but now she gets to tell you how to live your life. Sorry: encourage you to make choices that will make you happier.
In other words, Maya Shankar is going to fiddle while we ignore the choices she will make in our behalf.
But we still have to pay her and she will very likely still be annoying. Nudges are, you know.