Tony Janio: Human nature and behavioural economics

Tony Janio
Tony Janio

This week I will try to provide some good news for those of you who may feel the need to change your beliefs and tastes late in life, in an attempt to fit in with modern life.

First a confession: I am a life-long fan of the rock band Status Quo and, as a former rugby player, I love nothing more than sitting in front of my TV to an afternoon of frustration watching the England XV. Over the last few months, however, I have been comfortable listening to the terrific Walls’CD, the latest offering from The Kings of Leon, and have also have taken to cycling along the seafront, in the early morning breeze, on route to my yoga class.

In my youth, I also believed that humans made perfectly rational choices in life, and was an untainted lover of free-market Hayekian economics. A chance purchase of the Daniel Kahneman classic ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ - the only book I have read cover-to-cover twice without gasping for breath - took me down an alternative and mysterious path of describing human nature: behavioural economics.

Frustrated that ‘others’ were unable to join my new ability to explain many of life’s strange rituals I reasoned that this was, perhaps, because no purveyor of the dark art of behavioural economics had won a major economics prize. It was with pure joy, therefore, that I learnt that Richard Thaler had been awarded a Nobel Prize.

Professor Thaler published ‘Nudge’ in 2009, a work that inspired David Cameron to set up a unit to ‘encourage’ folks away from irrational choices, improve the effectiveness of public services and radically improve the delivery of Government. The behavioural insights, or ‘Nudge’ team embraced ‘libertarian paternalism’, a link between the economic and psychological worlds, that it was hoped would encourage better decision-making, rather than using fixed rules: building cycle racks, but not banning the car. Behavioural economics also make me 100 per cent happy to be a Conservative: I have an economic theory that does not reply upon the belief that people have to behave in a selfish, purely rational manner to maximise their health, wealth and happiness.

Tony Janio is the leader of the Conservatives on Brighton and Hove City Council.