I am fascinated by the group David Cameron has set up in No.10, called The Behavioural Insights Unit. I think it is evidence of a massive shift that is just beginning in British politics which will change the way politicians govern and manage the rest of us.
Tony Blair believed in a consumerist idea of democracy. He used focus groups to try and find out what people wanted as a way of shaping policy (except, of course, over Iraq). Like Mrs Thatcher, he believed that the people knew best. They expressed their desires and wants clearly through the market. And politics, he believed, should imitate this.
The Behavioural Insights Team believe the opposite. That in many cases you can't trust the people. That if you let them just follow their desires they will often do things that are bad both for themselves and for society.
This doesn't mean you get rid of the market. Instead governments should find ways to manipulate ordinary peoples' feelings and desires so they "choose" to do the right thing.
Behind this are the ideas of what is called Behavioural Economics. They were popularised by a book called "Nudge" written by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein.
The idea of "nudging" citizens to do the right thing sounds cute. But in reality it marks the return of a powerful psycho-political theory that rose up in the mid-20th century. It was called Behaviourism. And it was hated by both the right and the left.
Behaviourism's most famous exponent was an American psychologist called B. F. Skinner who was an idealist and a utopian. He believed that his techniques of behaviour modification could be used to create a completely new kind of world....continues at link above.