Why Nudge?: The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism (The Storrs Lectures Series)

Why Nudge?: The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism (The Storrs Lectures Series)

Cass R. Sunstein

Language: English

Pages: 208

ISBN: 0300197861

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Based on a series of pathbreaking lectures given at Yale University in 2012, this powerful, thought-provoking work by national best-selling author Cass R. Sunstein combines legal theory with behavioral economics to make a fresh argument about the legitimate scope of government, bearing on obesity, smoking, distracted driving, health care, food safety, and other highly volatile, high-profile public issues. Behavioral economists have established that people often make decisions that run counter to their best interests—producing what Sunstein describes as “behavioral market failures.” Sometimes we disregard the long term; sometimes we are unrealistically optimistic; sometimes we do not see what is in front of us. With this evidence in mind, Sunstein argues for a new form of paternalism, one that protects people against serious errors but also recognizes the risk of government overreaching and usually preserves freedom of choice.

Against those who reject paternalism of any kind, Sunstein shows that “choice architecture”—government-imposed structures that affect our choices—is inevitable, and hence that a form of paternalism cannot be avoided. He urges that there are profoundly moral reasons to ensure that choice architecture is helpful rather than harmful—and that it makes people’s lives better and longer.

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active choosing will be found congenial to those who emphasize both learning and liberty. Thus Mill noted that conformity to custom “does not educate or develop . . . any of the qualities which are the distinctive endowment of a human being. The human faculties of perception, judgment, discriminative feeling, mental activity, are exercised only in making a choice. . . . The mental and moral, like the muscular powers, are improved only by being used.”6 A default rule is not precisely custom as

provision of national defense, antitrust law, environmental protection, and a system of justice committed to the rule of law (including an independent judiciary). What is true for standard market failures is true for behavioral market failures as well. Imaginable Worlds and Rule-Consequentialist Antipaternalism It should now be obvious that the welfarist objections to paternalism, whatever their form, depend on empirical assumptions and perhaps even hunches. We could certainly imagine a

chosen, not because God or nature has so decreed. Perhaps an opt-in program is better, for various reasons, than an opt-out one; but in either case, people are being defaulted into one set of outcomes rather than another. As we have seen, active choosing is a possible way out of the occasional difficulty of choosing the right default rule, and in some cases, active choosing is best. But as we have also seen, some people would prefer not to choose, and active choosing has difficulties of its own,

Paper No. 199/2004, 2004), http://www.march.es/ceacs/publicaciones/working/archivos/2004_199.pdf. 17. JOHN STUART MILL, ON LIBERTY 8 (Kathy Casey ed., 2002) (1859). 18. See DAVID O. BRINK, MILL’S PROGRESSIVE PRINCIPLES (2013) for instructive discussion. 19. See, e.g., Hunt Allcott, Sendhil Mullainathan & Dmitry Taubinsky, Energy Policy with Externalities and Internalities (Nat’l Bureau of ECON. Research, Working Paper No. 17,977, 2012), http://www.nber.org/papers/w17977 (explaining that people

Idaho Grilled Trout. The Simply 600 menu is printed on a separate, highly visible section of the restaurant’s larger menu. And right outside The Daily Grill, there is a large display featuring the phrase “Simply 600” in big characters, with appealing photographs of the various options on the special menu. Is The Daily Grill being paternalistic? Maybe not. Maybe it is merely catering to what people want, and letting its health-conscious customers know that it has what they are seeking. Maybe it

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