Behavioural science is a manipulative field. Practitioners observe and theorise on people’s motives and actions to predict how they will react to certain inputs. How they will think. How their attitudes will change.
Naturally, the machinery of government has taken a great interest in this field, and have their own experts on staff in the corridors of power.
It works, and nudge campaigns based in behavioural science have been deployed successfully to make unpopular behaviours almost compulsory, and once-popular pastimes become reviled.
The campaigns work by giving frequent small reminders that something is not in your own or society’s best interest. They make it easy to choose ‘correctly’ by making the ‘wrong’ choice more difficult.
By putting minor obstacles in the way. By reminding you that you’re about to do something which society considers wrong.
The successes of the Home Office’s Behavioural Insight Team, informally known as ‘The Nudge Unit,’ have been astounding. Tests across the country have resulted in safer driving, lower intake of sugary food and drinks, increased educational achievement. In the US, Silicon Valley bosses used nudges to improve the productivity of workers.
A nudge in the right place, or even a series of nudges, can produce the required results without needing any unpopular legislation up front. Once the the value of normal has changed, laws can be put in place to codify it.
Critics argue that nudging is incompatible with the rule of law. That it diminishes autonomy, threatens dignity, violates liberties. None of those concerns prevented the theory originator, Richard Thaler from taking the 2017 Nobel Prize in economics.
There’s been something weird going on with the renting industry in recent years. Small things, which on their own are not quite insignificant, but which make establishing and running a property empire that little bit more difficult.
There is no national legislation dictating how often landlords need to have gas safety certificates issued for their properties, but an increasing number of local authorities are mandating yearly inspections.
Removing tax relief on buy-to-let mortgages could potentially push thousands of buy-to-let properties into unprofitability.
Compulsory Private Landlord Registration
Annual property licensing for each individual rented property in Liverpool (at a cost of £400 per property)
The barrier to entry is certainly getting higher, and the cost of doing business is growing. We’d be incredibly surprised if the nudges didn’t push a significant proportion of private landlords out of the industry, and deter others from getting started.
But why? Are private landlords truly so detrimental society that opting out of the game is the moral choice and good for society? What’s the eventual endgame here? Who will benefit if all these little nudges and reminders actually bear fruit? And they will. Nudge theory works. Just wait and see.
David Rutland is the resident conspiracy theorist at rent.works.