Libertarian paternalism is the idea that it is both possible and legitimate for private and public institutions to affect behavior while also respecting freedom of choice, as well as the implementation of that idea. The term was coined by behavioral economist Richard Thaler and legal scholar Cass Sunstein in a article in the American Economic Review. It is libertarian in the sense that it aims to ensure that "people should be free to opt out of specified arrangements if they choose to do so" p. The possibility to opt-out is said to "preserve freedom of choice" p.
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We'd like to understand how you use our websites in order to improve them. Register your interest. How can the government influence people to make better decisions about health, wealth and happiness without coercing them? Largely drawing on the psychological research in decision-making, nudges aim at influencing people to make better decisions, while leaving intact their freedom of choice.
Since its inception, the idea of nudging has been heavily debated, and experts from various fields have investigated the epistemological, ethical and legal underpinnings of nudge policies. But nudges extend beyond libertarian paternalism, and the present volume investigates some of the issues they raise. It gathers contributions by philosophers, psychologists, economists, neuroscientists and legal scholars, beginning with an invited article by Gerd Gigerenzer, and concluding with a commentary on all articles by Cass Sunstein.
This editorial will present the main philosophical debates raised by nudges, and locate the import of the different contributions to this volume in these debates. We will address successively three topics: the definition of key concepts; the normative justification of nudging policies; and their evidential support.
Many of the debates addressed in this volume depend on the details of how one understands nudges. Finally, we characterize libertarian paternalism as a particular kind of advocacy of nudges. Thus, since its inception, nudge has been given a dual nature: as an aspect of choice architecture, or as an intervention. Guala and Mittone , this issue, or Nagatsu , this issue. The latter definition—which is in line with Sunstein this issue —makes a clear distinction between choice architecture and a nudge, and emphasizes the intentionality, a morally relevant factor Saghai ; as it is the most differentiated notion, we will employ it here.
These formulation are vague, and open to interpretation. With these clarifications, we can summarize: a nudge is defined here as an intervention on the choice architecture that is predictably behaviour-steering, but preserves the choice-set and is at least substantially non-controlling, and does not significantly change the economic incentives.
The design of nudges largely relies on results from behavioural sciences about the use of heuristics—i. As a matter of fact, nudges have often been considered as having a special connection with non-deliberative faculties see e.
Kahneman Indeed, Thaler and Sunstein go into great details about how nudges can exploit such cognitive shortcuts in order to affect behaviour. Some nudges, in order to steer behaviour, will exploit this knowledge by seeking to trigger the use of certain heuristics. For example, Rebonato argues that nudges often affect features of the choice architecture that people would typically think they do not care about e.
However, Sunstein , this issue and other authors see e. First, nudges may also counteract or block the detrimental use of heuristics in certain environments Guala and Mittone , this issue; Mills , this issue - think about mandatory cool-off periods before a purchase. Second, some nudges may have no special connection with heuristics at all.
Such a broad definition of nudge does not need to rely on any specific psychological theory of heuristics, a topic on which there are significant disagreements, as detailed by Gigerenzer , this issue ; however, most commentators have adopted a more narrow definition. Note that a particular intervention might belong to several of these kinds: think for example about shocking tobacco health warnings, which at the same time inform and exploit various cognitive shortcuts like availability heuristics Barton ; or think about the nudge informing students that their peers do binge-drink less often than what they would assume, in order to trigger a conformist heuristics leading to a healthier behaviour Haines and Spear Most of the analysis on nudges has focused on the heuristics-triggering kind, which is often considered ethically and politically problematic e.
The distinction into heuristics-triggering, heuristics-blocking and informing nudges differentiates them according to the nature of the interventional mechanism for more on mechanisms, see Section 4. As proposed by Hagmann et al. The argument driving this advocacy relies on the purported difference of pro-self nudges to the tools advocated by others forms of paternalism, like incentives or commands.
Sunstein , this issue. This characterization of libertarian paternalism has sometimes been criticized as too broad Hausman and Welch : as a matter of fact, some instances of informing nudges would count as libertarian paternalistic, although they would not be categorized as paternalistic, according to most general definitions of paternalism. Most heuristics-triggering and maybe also heuristics-blocking pro-self nudges, though, might be genuinely called paternalistic.
We now address the normative question raised by libertarian paternalism: is the governmental use of pro-self nudges justified? The next part will give an overview of the different arguments that have been given in favour of, or against, such a thesis.
There may exist different kinds of normative justification for nudges; for example, in situations where more freedom-interfering interventions like prohibitions are justified, nudges might also be justified.
However, we will concentrate in this part on the question whether the governmental use of pro-self nudge can be ethically justified on the basis of the specificity of the tools that are used—namely, pro-self nudges, rather than financial incentives or commands as in classical paternalism. For this, it is important to dissociate the different dimensions of nudges.
There seem to be little ethical objections against informing nudges, informing being generally considered as ethically unproblematic. And as a matter of fact, the bulk of the literature has concentrated on heuristics-triggering nudges; those are the ones whose normative justification we are going to investigate here.
Libertarian paternalism points to the purported evidence from psychological research for the systematic irrationality of human decision makers, in order to justify the use of nudges.
Nudging a systematically irrational agent thus might be justifiable because it helps the agent realize her own will. When this argument is used to justify heuristics-triggering nudges, it relies on an outcome-oriented, rather than process-oriented Charland , conception of rationality: what matters is that the choice fits some notion of rationality typically satisfaction of preferences , irrespective of whether the process by which this choice was produced is rational.
On the opposite, heuristics-blocking nudges may be seen as relying on a process-oriented conception of rationality that would remove supposedly irrational applications of heuristics in certain circumstances. However, one needs to be cautious with this diagnosis of irrationality. Gigerenzer this issue argues that many decisions that appear to be irrational on a superficial analysis are in fact ecologically rational—that is, they lead to adequate outcomes in the appropriate environment. The case of time-discounting appears to be especially problematic.
This is especially true if agents cannot recognize that their future selves are fully the same persons as there present selves, as argued by Lecouteux , this issue : in such a case, it may not be irrational for them to strongly i. But the fact that the diagnostic of irrationality is sometimes difficult to establish does not imply that it is always impossible: as emphasized by Sunstein , this issue , one should be wary of the risk of over-generalizing.
In some situations like akrasia or addiction, it might be possible to diagnose irrationality Guala and Mittone , this issue; Barton Moreover, Sunstein and Thaler definition of ideal conditions for true preferences namely complete information, unlimited cognitive abilities and no lack of willpower might appear quite ill-defined, as suggested by Sugden —who argues that even if they could be clarified, it would make them presumably impossible to know for the libertarian paternalistic planner.
Moreover, even if some nudges may steer people to act according to their true preferences, they would not do so for all agents: preferences are heterogeneous in virtually any large enough population.
Some people may prefer to eat unhealthy but tasty food over healthy food, or smoke willingly, even when taking into account the risks involved. Sunstein argue that this problem might be mitigated through personalized nudges—that is, nudges that would push agents in different directions, depending on their own preferences.
However, he also acknowledges that this raises some important technical difficulties. A classical answer to this problem Sunstein , this issue is that in contrast to some forms of classically paternalistic interventions, nudges are designed to be easily avoidable Sunstein ; Sunstein and Thaler ; Thaler and Sunstein or resistible Saghai However, to be able to do so, two conditions need to be fulfilled: an external condition, and an internal one.
The external condition is that to be able to avoid a nudge, one needs in a first place to know that one is being nudged, which requires a sufficient degree of transparency of the nudge. As argued by Bovens , to be avoidable, nudges should not only be type-transparent the general existence of such nudges is made transparent to the nudgee , but also token-transparent each specific intervention is made transparent to the nudgee.
Many nudges satisfy this conditions, but many others do not see Hansen and Jespersen for a categorization, and also Lepenies and Malecka , this issue. The internal conditions have been analysed by Saghai : to be able to effortlessly resist a nudge, the agent should have special cognitive capacities - namely attention-bringing and inhibitory capacities. Hansen and Jespersen This is a question for cognitive psychology, on which neuroscientific model may have insights to bring see Felsen and Reiner , this issue, for considerations on top-down control versus automatic reasoning.
It seems, therefore, that in the best of all cases, libertarian paternalistic nudges will benefit some agents—hopefully a majority of them—but always at the expanse of a minority of them Bovens ; Lecouteux , this issue , if only because of deliberative costs. Thus, to be avoidable or resistible , nudges must be transparent enough, and agents need to have the right set of cognitive abilities; and even in this case, nudges benefit some population at the expanse of some costs—at least, deliberative ones—to some other population.
Although this does not mean that pro-self nudges are unjustifiable we will investigate some possible justifications in part 3. To make the case for nudge stronger, libertarian paternalists turn to the supposed impossibility not to nudge: as repeatedly pointed by Sunstein e. There are a few caveats though. Therefore, one needs to be cautious, when using this argument, about what are the details of the situation at hand; for sure, it cannot be a blanket justification of all kinds of nudges.
Therefore, according to some non-consequentialist ethical views, the unintentional influence of a choice architecture chosen with no purpose in mind could be less ethically problematic than the intentional influence of a nudge. Footnote 4. Third, it is not obvious that, in cases where no neutral cognitive architecture can be arranged, agents should be nudged in a welfare-promoting direction - that is, that pro-self nudges should be put into place. Maybe, in some situations, it would be more justifiable to use pro-social nudges, which may not nudge in the same direction as pro-self nudges.
Thus, the impossibility to choose a neutral choice architecture does not necessarily justify libertarian paternalism—at best, it would justify nudging. The direction of the nudging needs to be independently justified.
In the last section, we argued that although a libertarian paternalistic justification of nudging might not fail in all situations, it is weakened in a number of cases in which it pretends to apply.
Yet the governmental use of nudges might be justified by other arguments. First, standard paternalistic arguments Arneson ; Conly , Coons and Weber might justify pro-self nudges as legitimate tools alongside more coercive measures. Third, nudges might be legitimated by democratic processes. Hagmann et al. It should be noted that ethical arguments for libertarian paternalism or pro-social nudges might have a role to play here.
For example, we discussed how pro-self nudges can benefit the majority of a population at the expanse of some costs for minorities: such costs may well be judged as quite small in comparison to the benefits by the population, and thus be accepted through a democratic process.
Footnote 6. A justification of a nudge might be absolute in the sense that it renders this nudge permissible, or even mandatory. Alternatively, one might assume a comparative perspective, and ask whether these or other justifications render nudges preferable to alternative intervention tools.
Such a comparative perspective requires that the policy tools are distinct alternatives, which, as we discussed above, is not always the case: Sunstein , this issue , for example, argues that education might be a kind of nudging. Yet even if they were distinct alternatives, it would often be possible to combine them in application. For example, many experts recommend that tobacco health warnings should be combined with taxes and other strong measures in order to limit smoking prevalence.
In some situations, however, choices between these interventions need to be made. This may be simply because of limitations of time and funds. Alternatively, one intervention may causally cancel the other. For example, when education seeks to increase the competences and skills about when and how to use which heuristics, it may conflict with heuristics-triggering nudges, which induce their unreflected use—to nudge patients into accepting a treatment by framing its benefits as relative probabilities might be less effective once we educated these patients in the skill of relating relative risk reductions to absolute frequencies.
A comparative assessment would contrast nudges with alternative intervention tools along a number of dimensions. We discuss two normative dimensions here, autonomy and transparency. Section 4 continues this perspective by discussing a number of evidential support dimensions relevant for such a comparison. Worries about autonomy loom large in the philosophical literature on nudges. Hausman and Welch have argued that nudges infringe on the autonomy.
Kapsner and Sandfuchs , this issue argue that insofar as nudges infringe on privacy, they also infringe on autonomy.
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