Debate: To Nudge or Not to Nudge

Journal of Political Philosophy Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 18, No. 1, Pg. 123-136, 2010.

Daniel M. Hausman and Brynn Welch

One of the hottest ideas in current policy debates is “libertarian paternalism,” the design of policies that push individuals toward better choices without limiting their liberty. In their recent book, Nudge, Richard Thaler and then Obama advisor (now head of the White House’s Office of Information and regulatory Affairs), Cass Sunstein, suggest several ways in which government agencies and private organizations might “nudge” individuals toward actions that are better  or them. They hope to promote libertarian paternalism as a promising foundation for bipartisanship—a way of maintaining our firm commitment to freedom of choice while also helping people make better decisions for themselves” (p. 14). They suggest “that libertarian paternalism offers a real Third Way—one that can break through some of the least tractable debates in contemporary democracies” (p. 252/255).
   In this article, we address questions both about paternalism—what is it, and could there be a variety that does not limit freedom?—and about nudges—what are they, and should those who value freedom find them unobjectionable? We deny libertarian paternalism is both libertarian and paternalist and that it is as benign as Thaler and Sunstein maintain. We argue that some of their proposals constitute a istinctive variety of paternalism, whose libertarian credentials are dubious, even though their implementation would not be coercive4 and would not significantly limit freedom of choice. Our focus is on their concepts, not their policies.
   After a first section that clarifies what Thaler and Sunstein take libertarian paternalism to be, section II addresses the question of what constitutes paternalism. In our view, what makes some of the policies Thaler and Sunstein call “libertarian paternalism” paternalistic is that they push people to make choices that are good for themselves by taking advantage of imperfections in human decision-making abilities. Section III then addresses the broader question concerning what limits there ought to be on nudges—that is, the use of flaws in human judgment and choice to influence people’s behavior.

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(Something interesting I found)Posted:Mar 01 2010, 12:00 AM by nick stock
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