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Government Paternalism

Government Paternalism: Nanny State or Helpful Friend?

Julian Le Grand
Bill New
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Government Paternalism
    Book Description:

    Should governments save people from themselves? Do governments have the right to influence citizens' behavior related to smoking tobacco, eating too much, not saving enough, drinking alcohol, or taking marijuana-or does this create a nanny state, leading to infantilization, demotivation, and breaches in individual autonomy? Looking at examples from both sides of the Atlantic and around the world,Government Paternalismexamines the justifications for, and the prevalence of, government involvement and considers when intervention might or might not be acceptable. Building on developments in philosophy, behavioral economics, and psychology, Julian Le Grand and Bill New explore the roles, boundaries, and responsibilities of the government and its citizens.

    Le Grand and New investigate specific policy areas, including smoking, saving for pensions, and assisted suicide. They discuss legal restrictions on risky behavior, taxation of harmful activities, and subsidies for beneficial activities. And they pay particular attention to "nudge" or libertarian paternalist proposals that try to change the context in which individuals make decisions so that they make the right ones. Le Grand and New argue that individuals often display "reasoning failure": an inability to achieve the ends that they set themselves. Such instances are ideal for paternalistic interventions-for though such interventions might impinge on autonomy, the impact can be outweighed by an improvement in well-being.

    Government Paternalismrigorously considers whether the state should guide citizen decision making in positive ways and if so, how this should be achieved.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6629-8
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Preface
    (pp. VII-XII)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Should smoking be banned? Is it right for governments to prosecute those who help the terminally ill to kill themselves? Should individuals be compelled to save for their old age? Why do most countries require their citizens to wear seat belts in a car? Why do they also require motorcycle riders to wear helmets? Should sadomasochistic sexual practices between consenting adults be made illegal? Is it appropriate for government to regulate the content of popular foods so as to tackle the growth in obesity in the population?

    All these are examples of what is becoming one of the major social...

  5. 2 What Is Paternalism?
    (pp. 7-24)

    A simple definition of paternalism is the interference by some outside agent in a person’s freedom for the latter’s own good. It describes an action deemed impermissible by John Stuart Mill’s classic statement of the liberal position inOn Liberty: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant” (Mill 1974/1859, 68).

    Paraphrasing Mill, this states that the only justification for state intervention in an individual’s freedom is if that person...

  6. 3 Types of Paternalism
    (pp. 25-40)

    A large number of different types of paternalism have been discussed in the literature. In this chapter we consider some of these. In particular we examine legal paternalism, soft and hard paternalism, and means and ends paternalism. As part of our discussion of means and ends paternalism, we also examine perfectionism, volitional and critical paternalism, moral paternalism, and legal moralism. Finally we consider some distinctions that are less important but nonetheless necessary to keep the terminology consistent.

    Legal paternalism is a term Feinberg (1971) originally coined to refer to the specifically lawmaking form of paternalism enacted by governments, as opposed...

  7. 4 Paternalism in Practice
    (pp. 41-78)

    As we defined it in chapter 2, government paternalism seeks to do good for people under circumstances whereby the government considers their judgment to be compromised. Paternalistic interventions are not concerned with protecting one individual from another, nor with helping people to achieve collectively what they cannot achieve individually, nor with ensuring that people have an adequate level of income. But such distinctions are not always obvious in practice. Those who oppose paternalism but who nonetheless are sympathetic to government intervention in key areas of society and the economy are able to cite a range of competing justifications that offer...

  8. 5 Paternalism and Well-Being
    (pp. 79-104)

    For any theory of paternalism to have a role in public policy, there must be some basis for believing that, in making decisions about their well-being or their wider interests, people are failing in a systematic way to achieve these ends or are failing in some way to have the ends they ought to have. These failings, according to our definition of paternalism, are failures of judgment concerning various life decisions. A necessary condition for a paternalistic intervention is that there must be the potential, at least, for making better decisions. In this chapter we look at the evidence for...

  9. 6 The Nanny State: The Challenge from Autonomy
    (pp. 105-132)

    The principal nonutilitarian objection to paternalism derives from the notion of autonomy. This is the notion of self-rule, the ability to act as a deliberating agent. Although Mill never used the term “autonomy,” he is strongly associated with the notion that the individual has the right to plan and enact his life and is therefore “sovereign” over it: “In the part [of his conduct] which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign” (Mill [1859] 1974, 69).

    As we saw earlier, Mill considered that an individual’s “own...

  10. 7 Libertarian Paternalism
    (pp. 133-146)

    The previous chapter identified the need for government policies aimed at correcting reasoning failure to make an appropriate trade-off between individuals’ well-being and their autonomy. New and particularly influential proposals that seek to provide a practical approach to that trade-off are the so-called nudge ideas based on what has been termed “libertarian” paternalism by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (Sunstein and Thaler 2003; Thaler and Sunstein 2008) and “asymmetric” paternalism by Colin Camerer, Samuel Issacharoff, George Loewenstein, Ted O’Donoghue, and Matthew Rabin (2003). These ideas and their philosophical rationale are the focus of this chapter.

    The central ideas underlying both...

  11. 8 Paternalism and Policy
    (pp. 147-166)

    The arguments in this book have so far been conducted largely at the level of principle. This is important, since, if government policy is to be consistent and coherent, the basic principles have to be resolved before the relevant policy measures are designed. The principles do need to be tested, however, to see if they may usefully guide policy when they are confronted with reality; and that is the task of this chapter.

    Whether a particular paternalistic policy intervention is justified in practice will depend on the number of people affected by it and on the extent to which each...

  12. 9 The Politics of Paternalism
    (pp. 167-176)

    In the preceding chapters we have demonstrated that there is a case for paternalistic interventions by government to address individual reasoning failures. We have also given guidance as to the policy mechanisms that can maximize the benefits of intervention in terms of improving individual well-being, while minimizing the cost in terms of the impact on individual autonomy. However, these contributions on their own are not enough to provide an unanswerable case for paternalistic interventions in every situation of individual reasoning failure. For that would require a demonstration that in the relevant circumstances the government can make better decisions than the...

  13. 10 Nanny State or Helpful Friend?
    (pp. 177-182)

    John Stuart Mill was wrong. In this book we have argued that, contrary to Mill’s classic statement on the illegitimacy of government intervention to promote an individual’s own good that was quoted at the beginning of chapter 2, there are situations where the government should intervene to save people from the consequences of their own decisions, even if no one else is harmed by those decisions. However, even with justified paternalism, there is an unavoidable trade-off between promoting citizens’ well-being and preserving their individual autonomy. Therefore the government’s aim should be to develop paternalistic policies that maximize well-being while having...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-194)
  15. Index
    (pp. 195-202)