(Allen Lane, £17.99)
Jennifer Jacquet wants to bring back shame as a moral tool. An environmentalist at New York University, Jacquet argues that as well as feeling guilty about using fossil fuels or consuming dolphin-unfriendly tuna, we should publicly shame the corporations who pollute or exploit the planet. Only then will their behaviour improve. She moves beyond the environment and makes the case for the strategic embarrassment of those who, for example, don’t pay their taxes. She cites the State of California, which every year publishes a list of 500 individuals and businesses who owe more than $100,000 in tax. The mere threat of being on the list has brought in an extra $336m.
This provocative book is full of interesting case studies. But Jacquet doesn’t fully take account of the objections of philosophers such as Martha Nussbaum, who believes that when governments shame individuals they undermine citizens’ dignity. It’s not only the state that can go too far. What about the union officials who publish on the internet the names and pictures of anyone crossing a picket line—an example Jacquet quotes without apparent disapproval? Making people who do bad things feel bad is only the first step in a complex process of moral rehabilitation; a more positive vision of the human good is necessary than the one offered here. Jacquet’s book feels philosophically brittle (not helped by the pointless cute illustrations), but nonetheless adds to the continuing debate over how governments and societies can encourage, nudge or coerce their citizens into behaving better.