Farmers market nudges

For those who have wondered, the Nudge blog will be back in full force in 2009. For the time being, the Washington Post reports on an idea that mixes libertarian paternalism with good old-fashioned monetary incentives devised by the Wholesome Wave Foundation.

In the spring, it launched a program that doubles the value of food stamps and fruit and vegetable vouchers of low-income mothers and seniors who use them at farmers markets in Connecticut, Massachusetts and California. The Wholesome Wave matching grants were an instant hit at the City Heights market in San Diego. On the first day that matching funds became available, sales using government-issued electronic benefit cards soared by more than 200 percent. In subsequent weeks, the line to receive matching vouchers formed at 7:30 a.m., and the available funds were exhausted by 9:30 a.m., just 30 minutes after the market opened.

“We’re not taking away your benefits because you spend them on Twinkies,” said Michel Nischan, a Connecticut chef and president of Wholesome Wave. “But if you decide you want to spend it on fresh tomatoes, you’ll get double your money.”

And some Congressional testimony on why creative nudges like this will be needed to solve health problems like obesity.

“Research is clear — handing out nutrition brochures does not work,” Eileen Kennedy, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

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3 Responses to “Farmers market nudges”

  1. Justin Says:

    I wonder how effective it would be if, instead of handing out nutritional brochures, they handed out copies of Nudge. My hypothesis is that people who understand cognitive biases are better suited to overcome them.

  2. emigrl Says:

    They should be applauded for helping out people who are struggling to put food on the table, NOT for nudging their spending behaviours. This sort of class-specific nudges reflect and amplify faulty assumptions about poverty and class in American societies, eventually leading to punitive and restrictive legislative changes. Some points to consider:

    Poor people do not suffer from obesity because of bad choices they make. The problems is that they are working too many hours for too little money to prepare healthful meals. While discount on fresh produce would be a welcome change, it does not address the root cause of poor health among poor people, which is not that they make bad choices.

    Since the introduction of electronic food stamp card, welfare officers gained the ability to observe spending behaviours of each recipients, and it is not uncommon for welfare recipients to be scolded for how they spend their money. Do you really believe that, if Congressional hearing were to take place, the government would only offer more money for buying fresh produce, rather than punishing what it considers “bad” choices?

  3. a_c Says:

    This is not a nudge. It’s a market distortion, plain and simple, and everyone else has to pay the costs.

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