September 26, 2022

What happened to hug-a-hoodie?

Hi there,

Like
many of you, I have been following from afar the London riots, with spectacular
scenes of young people looting their trophies of conspicuous consumption. I’ve
found it quite fascinating to watch people forge explanations.

On
the one hand there’s the bleeding heart response: “We’ve got to believe we can
do something about the terrible problems of youth crime and disorder. We’ve got
be optimistic about young people, otherwise we’ll forever be dealing with the
short-term symptoms instead of the long-term causes.” On the other, there’s the
stern law and order approach: “We will track you down, we will find you, we
will charge you, we will punish you. You will pay for what you have done.”

Actually
the same fellow said both things – David Cameron. The former was in his
“hug-a-hoodie” speech as opposition leader. The latter was as British Prime
Minister last week. It seems obvious that he, like everyone else, hasn’t a clue
about what needs to be done.

Neuroscience
has featured strongly in Mr Cameron’s policies. Its Behavioural Insight Unit has been asked to develop policy
based on neuro-evolutionary thought. “Nudge” policies are supposed to prompt people
to make the “right” choices on issues like obesity and smoking. But will these
really be of any use in dealing with the biggest crisis his government has
faced to date?

My prediction is that sophisticated
policies like these are going to be dumped pretty smartly. The nightstick is
going to displace the nudge. What do you think?

Michael Cook