Nudge, part 1 Notes for November 1

Main points

Psychologists have shown that we make pervasive errors in perception and judgment. Thaler and Sunstein use these to argue for an unusually broad form of paternalism.

Specifically, they try to show that our choices are largely determined by features of the environment that are outside our control or even awareness. They identify a class that they call “choice architects.” These people either inevitably structure others’ choices or they could do so if they tried. Thaler and Sunstein argue that those who occupy this position should structure others’ choices with an eye to making them better off. That’s what makes the position paternalistic. It is “libertarian” because they favor paternalistic “nudges” that can be resisted by someone who chooses to do so: their paternalism isn’t mandatory.

Yet another example

Singapore is a paternalist’s dream. The government is strong, it’s run by highly competent and reasonably honest technocrats, and the population puts up with a lot of overtly paternalistic inteference in their lives. (It’s not a libertarian paternalist’s dream, though.) Here’s an example of apparently successful paternalism there: void decks. (Though I suspect that ethnic integration is the most significant part of the story.)

This page was written by Michael Green for Freedom, Markets, and Well-being, PPE 160, Fall 2010. It was posted November 1, 2010.
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