Wednesday, 14 August 2013


This is a short post about nudging that makes a brilliant point. You will recall that 'nudging' is the idea of using theories about how people behave (in particular in response choices they are offered) in order to encourage people to choose the right thing, but not forcing them to do so. The motive is paternalism, but the means are more compatible with liberty than traditional paternalism. Perhaps the best-known examples are putting organ donation and contribution to one's own pensions saving on an opt-out rather than opt-in basis.

Bryan Caplan makes the simple but (at least to me) new point that nudging is invariably viewed as a way of adding more paternalism, rather than softening the paternalism we already have. We talk about changing road-use policies to make it easier to choose to cycle and harder to choose to drive, for example, but we do not talk about allowing opt-outs from compulsory seatbelt laws.

One moral is that political ideas come with ideological baggage. Even something that look likes a neutral tool, available for use by either side of the political divide (Labour - nudge people to recycle more! Conservatives - nudge people to stay married!), comes into existence with people and their motives behind it.

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