Monday, May 24, 2010

Libertarian Paternalism

This week I will be blogging Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

Libertarian Paternalism is the wonderful name that Thaler and Sunstein give to their approach to social organization.

Their approach is paternalistic, in that it helps people make choices that will improve their lives - as the people themselves see it. Sometimes, though, we make choices automatically or in the heat of the moment that we would not make if we thought about it. Thus, the paternalism is in setting up our choices to get us to pick what our reflective selves would want - even when we are not being reflective.

Their approach is libertarian, though, in that you can opt out of choosing what the system urges you to choose. You are free to have a different opinion. You are free to make foolish choices. You are free to reject what you know is good for you out of sheer cussedness.

Thaler and Sunstein don't force you to choose what it good for you. But they do nudge.

Libertarian Paternalism, by its seeming union of opposites, ends up centrist.


Paul said...

I like this idea.

Shay Riley said...

Libertarian paternalism is an oxymoron. Thus, any "nudging" is not libertarianism (where one would reap the full repercussion of one's choices), but statism disguising itself as liberty.

Paul said...

"Nudging" is a liberty. It is part of freedom of speech. Libertarians and all Americans are free to "nudge" or not as they freely choose. Please don't confuse liberty with statism.

Brendan said...

I'm curious as to why this is considered paternalism rather than maternalism. I'm sure it's specific terminology within this domain, but "nudging" sounds at least as much like a maternal act as anything else.

Gruntled said...

I can't think of a principled reason; historically, though, when social institutions take care of people it is usually called paternalism.

Now I am trying to think of how maternalism might be different.

Mary Jane said...

Brendan we live a politically correct country now. Your question kinda of shows that. In the olden days men took care of and protected their families before feminism became as popular as it is today.