Could income inequality be solved with behavioural design?
Society, June 20th, 2017
There’s so much talk about income inequality. The general message put out is there’s a lot of people in poverty, a lot of people earning mega bucks and something has to be done about it. The usual answers involve caps and taxation, but is this the right answer?
The cap question is interesting for a couple of reasons. The first is the UK uses a relative measure for poverty (x% of the national median income), so a wage cap could instantly put a lot more people into poverty, or take a lot out, without doing anything. The other is if we start capping income some of the wealthy, as they come close to that cap, will start to find clever and ingenious ways of getting round it.
Taxation suffers from similar problems. Any changes to the tax system immediately sees the creation of a cottage industry in solutions to get round “the problem”.
What if there’s another way?
What if there is another approach to dealing with income inequality and encouraging the wealthy to contribute more of their wealth to cure the nation’s ills?
In the UK Government there is (or at least was, damned if I can find it now) there was a “Nudge” unit. It’s job was to find ways of encouraging citizens to contribute to society through subtle changes in behaviour. Their approaches included changing wording on documents and shifting things around to reduce accidental fraud, and their work has continued through the Digital Strategy that’s become a go-to for User Experience design.
We can influence shopping behaviour, why not tackle poverty?
So here’s an idea. Instead of beating up the wealthy and telling them they’re not doing enough and how unfair life is, let’s let the behavioural designers loose on the problem. Let’s get them to think up some new ideas about how to engage those with way above “average” earnings. Let’s throw out the broken, not working rule book and reimagine the problem.
Let’s think of ways that engage the wealthy in solving inequality. Could we, for example, encourage them to invest in housing associations? Or find ways of using their talents to solve some of our deep rooted problems? What if we could encourage them to mentor others to improve their lots in life?
I can’t help but think seeing the wealthy and successful in our society as pariahs is a negative reaction that will do more long term harm than good.
After all, who wants to be successful when those around you will resent you for it.
Image courtesy of On Innovation
I'm a freelance researcher, designer and writer. My clients have included Fintech startups, publishers and digital agencies. You can read more about my work here.
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