The Tories’ ‘Nudge Unit’ and the Nazi Manipulation of Workers’ Psychology

Yesterday I posted a very well received article warning people about how the government is trying to deny automatic repeat prescriptions for people on medication for depression. Two of the commenters on the article, Shawn and Michelle, also added their observations on how the government was deliberately trying to manipulate the public’s psychology, especially that of the sick and disabled themselves, through the glib use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as the catch-all treatment for depression on the one hand, and the ‘Nudge Unit’ on the other. The Nudge Unit was the government’s attempts to set up a state department explicitly and blatantly devoted to manipulating popular psychology.

They weren’t the first regime to do this. Robert A. Brady in his book, The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd 1937), noted how the Nazis also tried to manipulate the psychology of the German workers through their totalitarian organisation, the DAF, or Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labour Front). The Nazis based the techniques they used on German workers on schemes and techniques that had already been tried by industrialists as part in experiments in ‘welfare capitalism’ elsewhere. It’s a long passage, covering several pages, but I think it’s worth quoting in full, just to show how totalitarian this is.

Exploitation of Non-Commercial Incentives

Social philosophers, anthropologists and reformers have long held that “man does not work for bread alone.” But only recently has industry learned that significant as hours, wages and other conditions of employment may be, they do not of themselves call out the highest levels of labour productivity. Given the minimum on these grounds, non-commercial are far more potent than commercial incentives. All those factors that combine to give the “sense of workmanship,” of group participation, of unfolding creative power, fall into the non-commercial class. Interest and emotional drives lead to higher and better sustained levels of output than can be provided by mere wage and hour considerations. With non-commercial incentives fatigue is lowered, improvements in processes and methods are more easily introduced, and friction between management and men is reduced to a minimum.

The Nazis were not the first to make this “discovery”-more accurately, “rediscovery.” Drawing realisation of the possibilities inherent in non-commercial incentives lies behind the elaborate and varied programmes of “welfare capitalism” found in all the western industrial countries. It provides the principal drive behind the rapidly proliferating psycho-technical research institutes, personnel selection and training systems, occupational conferences, bureaux and committees, industrial and public relations counsellors. Pioneering work in this field has been done by the world famous British Institute of Industrial Psychology, Moede’s laboratory at the Technische Hochschule at Charlottenburg, the German Institute for Technical Education and Training (D.I.N.T.A.) and many others. In America the Industrial Relations Counsellors, the National Occupational Conference, and the Personnel Research Federation are merely the leading organisations in this field.

Many of the largest corporations in the world have been applying these techniques on a large scale for many years. Outstanding examples are the National Railways and the Dye Trust in Germany, and the Western Electric and the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in America. The “Hawthorne Experiments,” carried out in one of the largest plants of the Western Electric, for example, provide both the experimental results and the argument for a position with respect to organised labour identical with that held by the leader of the German Labour Front. Labour, if interested and made to feel important, would work harder without demanding more pay.

A publication of the British Institute of Industrial Psychology, The Problem of Incentives in Industry, lists, among the exploitable non-commercial incentives, the following: Interest and Pride in the Work, the Incentive of Appreciation, the Incentive of Knowledge, the Incentive of Loyalty, the Incentive of Welfare Schemes, Interest in the Firm, Encouragement of Suggestions, Co-operation in Time Study, and the Incentive of Efficiency. Experimentation with and study of the working effects of such incentives has shown, step by step, the preponderating importance on the worker’s whole attitude towards life. It is an American, not a Nazi, author, who penned the following lines in one of the most significant books of the past decade dealing with social-economic problems: “To study a subject merely as the doer of a particular piece of work is of little value; the work to the worker is part of a whole, made up his numerous reactions to situations, real and ideal, over and above his work. Sometimes it is the phantasy life that is of more importance to the individual than the apparent real life. It is clearly impossible to obtain a thorough knowledge of anyone, but it has proved possible to get the point of view of a subject with sufficient clearness to yield an insight into the relation of the work he does to his general attitude to life.

The author of the above lines was thinking of the Hawthorne Experiments as he wrote. At Hawthorne and other places it has been demonstrated that cleverly introduced non-commercial incentive schemes will bring increases in labour productivity of 50 per cent and more per worker without appreciable increase in fatigue-and, of course, without corresponding increase in pay. Uniformly these schemes are tied p with the worker’s “attitude towards life,” his willingness and interest in work for larger ends, his social and cultural values. Intelligent investigators have come quickly to see that that these factors are interwoven with the whole economic and social systems of our times, and that, hence, capitalism, socialism, and communism are up for review not only in their larger bearing on problems of equality and human rights, but also with respect to their direct bearing on the homely problems of high man-hour productivity.

Here as elsewhere it is realised that productivity is connected by a thousand intimate bonds with the problem of the “attitude to life”, the Weltanschauung, the social philosophy of the individual workman. Doctrine, purpose, and policies are intertwined as the efficiency fundamentals of the human factor just as rigidly as power, connecting belts, and organisation are key to the efficient functioning of machines. As Mooney and Reiley have put it, where “spirit is co-ordinated … the man who is permeated with … doctrine invariably sees everything, the hard causes as well as the small matters, in their relation to the whole …” and, because he sees, agrees, and supports, he will work harder and produce more.

Control over the inner life of the worker leads by slow degrees to control over the entire culture: the worker’s entire intellectual and emotional environment, the science and the arts. Once begun there is no turning back. Since philosophy of life is at stake, the underlying tenets of the economic system are being weighed in the balance. The Communists teach that only those who produce should govern, and, since none except the weak and the disabled should live from the labour of others, the ideal is classless society of producer-users. The Nazis seek to prove that the existence of separate and distinct social classes is not only indispensable but the necessary law of life and social organisation. To prove their point they resort to arguments not unlike those advanced by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. And like Plato they propose a socially stratified society, governed from on top, in which each belongs to that class allotted to him by virtue of his “natural” gifts and capacities, and in which complete harmony obtains so long as the point of view of each and every man in each and every class is controlled through appropriate education and propaganda.

The Nazi position boils down to this: How far can the “co-ordination of spirit” be used for the fullest possible exploitation of the working capacities of the German population on behalf of the business enterprise-the “works community”? How far can this exploitation be carried without giving rise to revolt, without causing labour to resort to strikes and sabotage? How far can labour opposition, labour class interest-and of the existence of these interests there is not the slightest question in any of the literature-be “neutralised” on behalf of “service to the public” by “self-governed” business?

The Labour Front is the Nazi answer. (Pp.121-4).

Now I have absolutely no problem with the benign use of industrial psychology to make workers feel that they belong in a certain firm, and they personally and their labour are valued. Indeed, I’ve enjoyed working in companies where there was a great sense of comradeship, or team spirit, amongst the workers. However, the Tories aren’t interested in promoting that. They have no interest in fostering any of this. The only object of Tory propaganda and psychological manipulation is to make the worker feel powerless, to force them to work harder and longer for less, because they have no other choice, and to stigmatise those who can’t as malingerers. It’s a nasty, bleak, callous view of humanity, and show the cruelty and callous mentality of those who promote this world view. And it’s being deliberately spread through the medical profession and what remains of the welfare state, through ‘work coaches’ who do nothing but harangue the unemployed for being unemployed, and by Tory plans to insert special official in health centres and doctors surgeries to make sure the proles get back to work as quickly as possible. It hasn’t got to the point of compulsory mass membership in Tory labour organisations. For one thing, the Tories really don’t want to concede any kind of class organisation to the workers. But the totalitarian mindset is there, nonetheless.


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6 Responses to “The Tories’ ‘Nudge Unit’ and the Nazi Manipulation of Workers’ Psychology”

  1. Kitty S Jones Says:

    Democracy is based on a process of dialogue between the public and government, ensuring that the public are represented: that governments are responsive, shaping policies that address identified social needs. However, Coalition policies are no longer about reflecting citizen’s needs: they are all about telling us how to be.

    The ideas of libertarian paternalism were popularised around five years ago by the legal theorist Cass Sunstein and the behavioral economist Richard Thaler, in their bestselling book Nudge. Sunstein and Thaler argue that policymakers can preserve an individual’s liberty whilst still nudging a person towards choices that are supposedly in their best interests.

    But who nudges the nudgers? Who decides what is in our “best interests”?

    Behavioural Economics is actually founded in part on crude operant conditioning: it marks the return of a psychopolitical theory that arose in the mid-20th century, which was linked to behaviourism. Advocates of this perspective generalised that all human behaviour may be explained and described by a very simple reductive process: that of Stimulus–Response. There is no need, according to behaviourists, to inquire into human thoughts, feelings, beliefs or values, because we simply respond to external stimuli, and change our automatic responses accordingly, like automatons or rats in a laboratory.

    As a psychology student, I remember wondering why few psychologists had commented on the political ramifications of B.F. Skinner and behaviourism. After all, he was clearly a totalitarian thinker, and behaviour modification techniques are the delight of authoritarians. – from:

    There’s a clear connection between the Nudge Unit’s obsession with manipulating “cognitive bias” – in particular, “loss aversion” – and the increased use, extended scope and severity of sanctions, though most people succumbing to the Nudge Unit’s guru effect (ironically, another cognitive bias) think that “nudging” is just about prompting men to pee on the right spot in urinals, or persuading us to donate organs and to pay our taxes on time.

    When it comes to technocratic fads like nudge, it’s worth bearing in mind that truth and ethics quite often have an inversely proportional relationship with the profit motive.There’s a clear connection between the Nudge Unit’s obsession with manipulating “cognitive bias” – in particular, “loss aversion” – and the increased use, extended scope and severity of sanctions, though most people succumbing to the Nudge Unit’s guru effect (ironically, another cognitive bias) think that “nudging” is just about prompting men to pee on the right spot in urinals, or persuading us to donate organs and to pay our taxes on time.

    When it comes to technocratic fads like nudge, it’s worth bearing in mind that truth and ethics quite often have an inversely proportional relationship with the profit motive. – The government plan social experiments to nudge sick and disabled people into work –

  2. Ctesias62 Says:

    What do you call a semi-privatised unaccountable amoral quango?
    The nudge-nudge wink-wink say no more unit.

    • beastrabban Says:

      That’s a good one!

      • Michelle Says:

        This isn’t such a good one, beyond the ideas of motivating workers from tried and tested western industrial models the actual funding of Hitler’s national socialism came from Western financiers, Wall St et al, here’s a short easy to watch interview with Prof. Anthony Sutton of Stanford University (part 1):

        There were also secret loans from the Bank of England governor in 1934… 😦

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