Use of Nudge Principles to defeat lockdown in Covid-19 crisis

The Corona Virus started in Wuhan, China and presently spread across the globe. Till now, more than 2.5 lakh people were infected with coronavirus and caused more than 8,000 deaths in the world. Bharat has confirmed cases of 1100 and around 29 people died due to this pandemic. Most of the countries adopted similar steps such as shutting schools, universities, banning gatherings, locking down borders and quarantining travelers for 14 days who were coming to their country in different phases of this pandemic. Apart from this, behavioural science played an important role in the fight of the Coronavirus. 

Majority of the government across the world used nudge principles based on behavioural science to make their citizen individually responsible to contain the coronavirus by self-isolating, sitting at home, frequently washing their hands, use of sanitizers, Coughing using tissue or handkerchief, not touching your face, not shaking hands with others and social distancing. Let’s understand the ‘Nudge theory’.  

The nudge theory has been popularized in Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness (2008) and was defined as “any aspect of the choice architecture that predictably alters people’s behaviour without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives”. It means nudges are “interventions” that tip citizens in a direction but also give them freedom of choice. For example: Arranging healthy food items at the eye level in the store nudged people to buy more healthy foods. 

The former economics professor and think-tank adviser Tony Yates stated that nudge theory does not only inform what the government is doing but also inform us what is not doing. He observed that “the government’s strategy has at its heart predictions about human behaviour”, which includes preventive strategy such as social distancing and also gives insight that extreme actions of the government such as lockdown for a long time can cause boredom, fatigue among the larger population, people find it a way to come out and reduce its effectiveness. There is enough evidence in the behavioural science which shows that people have a high commitment at an early stage, but their motivation and enthusiasm comes down at some point.

In this Context, when Bharat is locked down for 21 days and people may lose its motivation after some time, the government of Bharat again used the nudge principles in the form of starting Ramayana and Mahabharat on the television to keep the motivation among the citizen. It is the best example of nudge in the present time to keep the enthusiasm high among the people and to divert the attention of the people from the coronavirus. The stories of the Ramayana and Mahabharat gives the citizen hope and positivity in this depressing time and helping the government to implement lockdown in the country.

I interviewed a few people on the phone regarding their view on the government decision to air Ramayana and Mahabharat in this crisis. 

lockdown mai Mann nahi lag raha tha and bar bar bahar jane ka man kar raha tha. Ab bacho ke sath 9 baje Ramayana and 12 baje Mahabharat dekhte hai. And Shaam mai bhi yehi karte hai. Is tarah Ramayana and Mahabharat ki aachi baat Bacho ko batate hai and time accha nikal jata hai. Entertainment accha ho jata hai and positive knowledge bhi milta hai”: Mithilesh Kumar, resident of Patna, Bihar. (We were getting bored and losing hope in sitting in the home. Now, we wait and see Ramayana and Mahabharat at 9 am and 12 pm respectively and do the same in the evening. We share the good values and learnings of both epics to our children and have a good time watching with them. Both epics are a good source of entertainment and knowledge in this crisis.  

The Scholars such as Benartzi (2017) and Mollenkamp (2019) suggested that nudges have proven to be highly cost-effective compared to other public policy tools that are available to policymakers in numerous sectors, nudges per dollar expenditure has shown greater impact than other traditional approaches. These areas include education, taxes, and subsidies.

Benartzi (2017) conducted a study of the costs and efficacy of various policy interventions in four areas: flu vaccinations, college enrollment, increasing retirement savings and, energy conservation. The objective of the study was to assess whether nudges are an effective use of public resources. For all the four areas of study, it was found that nudges offered the most impact per dollar.

In Bharat also, Nudge has been a very effective instrument in policy implementation such as the use of nudge principles in ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ in changing the behaviour of the people regarding construction and usage of toilet. Another evidence of nudge effectiveness is the Success of Social distancing, increasing hygiene behaviour such as the washing of hand in the people in Bharat.

Worldwide, Governments have been striving towards steering the decision-making behaviour of their people in the direction of achieving the best policy objectives. Given the progress of behavioural science, policymakers are now equipped with ‘nudge’, which promises a high return on minimal investment.

Nudging principles have been very effective in preventing the people from Corona Virus not only in Bharat but across the world. In line with research that suggests ‘nudges’ are more effective as compared to traditional approaches to policy, the author concludes that policymakers should nudge more, and governments should spend more on nudging.

-by Dhananjay Kumar (Chevening Scholar (2019-20), MA Public Policy, King’s College London, United Kingdom)

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