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Why Nudge?

Why Nudge?: The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism

Cass R. Sunstein
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Why Nudge?
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-20692-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Marketing & Advertising, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction: Behaviorally Informed Paternalism
    (pp. 1-24)

    On Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, DC, you can find a restaurant called The Daily Grill, which has created a special set of meals, known as Simply 600, on its lunch and dinner menus. All of those meals have six hundred calories or fewer. If you like, you can order the Chicken Marsala served over Angel Hair Pasta, or the Crab-Stuffed Salmon with Arugula and Grilled Tomato, or (my personal favorite) the 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...

  4. ONE Occasions for Paternalism
    (pp. 25-50)

    In recent decades, there has been an outpouring of empirical work on how human beings think and behave—and about the risk of serious error, especially in unusual or unfamiliar situations.¹ As I have noted, this work has been noticed by policymakers, and its influence is likely to grow. My goal in this chapter is to provide a brief summary, acknowledging that a great deal remains to be learned. My emphasis is on those findings that have special importance for the Harm Principle and the uses of paternalism.

    Within recent social science, authoritatively discussed by Daniel Kahneman in his masterful...

  5. TWO The Paternalist’s Toolbox
    (pp. 51-86)

    Do the findings just outlined justify paternalism? The initial task is to produce a working definition of paternalism.

    However it is defined, paternalism can come from diverse people and institutions. Employers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, architects, bankers, chefs, rental car companies, and countless others are capable of paternalism. All of these, and many others, may attempt to influence System 1 or educate System 2, and those efforts, along with social pressures, can greatly affect individual choices. We have seen that with its Simply 600 menu, The Daily Grill may well have been engaging in a form of paternalism, and there are...

  6. THREE Paternalism and Welfare
    (pp. 87-122)

    By itself, an understanding of human error cannot justify paternalism. We need to have a sense of what paternalism isfor—of what it would actually achieve in people’s lives. The obvious answer is that if choice architects are armed with an understanding of where people go wrong, they are in a good position to help people go right. The central idea is that some forms of paternalism can enable people to have better lives (by their own lights). If there is a moral argument on behalf of paternalism, this is where it resides.

    Because we are focusing here on...

  7. FOUR Paternalism and Autonomy
    (pp. 123-142)

    Suppose that we believe that freedom of choice has a special and independent status. Liberty as such, and not welfare, might be our guide. We might insist that people have a right to choose and that government cannot legitimately intrude on that right even when it does in fact know best. If people want to buy twenty-four-ounce soda bottles, high-calorie food, energy-inefficient refrigerators, or cars that have poor fuel economy, they are entitled to do just that. If they want to gamble or smoke, to spend their money rather than to save it, or to exercise just once a year...

  8. FIVE Soft Paternalism and Its Discontents
    (pp. 143-162)

    The argument thus far has proceeded on the assumption that hard paternalism raises special problems and that soft paternalism is usually better along important dimensions. If paternalistic approaches impose small costs, or no material costs, on those who seek to go their own way, then such approaches are far less vulnerable to the objections I have discussed here. The central reason is that they preserve freedom of choice. Some of those approaches might be compatible with the Harm Principle (consider warnings), and even if they are not (consider certain default rules), the right to opt out creates an important safety...

  9. Epilogue: The Lives We Save May Be Our Own
    (pp. 163-166)

    My goal here has been to explore the relationship between behavioral economics and paternalism, and in the process to cast doubt on Mill’s Harm Principle. I have suggested that the Epistemic Argument is sometimes wrong and that other defenses of the Harm Principle offer cautionary notes, not a trump card. If properly confined, paternalistic measures, designed to promote people’s welfare (as they understand it), embody appealing moral principles.

    More particularly, I have urged that accumulating evidence suggests, more concretely than ever before, that in identifiable cases, people’s mistaken choices can produce serious harm, even when there is no risk to...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 167-186)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 187-188)
  12. Index
    (pp. 189-195)