Nudge Paternalism

Topics: Individualism, Autonomy, Government Pages: 5 (1519 words) Published: March 8, 2014
“Most university students do not get enough exercise due to various biases in their decision-making process. Universities should automatically enrol students in a gym membership (increasing their fees by the price of the membership), and allow them to opt out if they wish by turning in a form.” Discuss.

There are on-going normative debates on policy-making and government intervention in citizen’s choices which impede upon liberty in forms of freedom and autonomy. In this essay I aim to provide a brief argument against Paternalism and an evaluation of Nudge Paternalism, as a means to emphasize the advantages of this softer form of paternalism, despite its violation on autonomy, as opposed to complete ‘laisser-faire’. I will conclude that despite its violation on autonomy, Libertarian Paternalism is a justified method of policy making due to its ability to efficiently maximize welfare.

First, I would like to define Paternalism and explain that its strong version limits freedom and has subsequently given rise to the emergence of a softer type of Paternalism which is compatible with individual freedom to pursue one’s interests, regardless of whether these comply with the government’s. Paternalism is defined as the interference with a person without her consent for her own good. Justified instances of paternalism are cases in which the individual has no minimally coherent will, i.e. young children, intoxicated and temporarily insane persons. According to the first Liberal Critique, Paternalistic policies are accused of inhibiting individual freedom of choice. Behavioural economists have challenged the traditional welfare economics assumption that people choose optimally for themselves and determined that there are mistakes in individual decision-making grounded on various biases, such as present, framing, projection and status quo bias. Hard Paternalism interferes with a person’s choice in terms of preventing and correcting mistaken decisions, which do not represent optimal choices for the individual from the policy maker’s point of view. This is recognized to be a restriction on individual liberty, which can be separated into freedom and autonomy.

Paternalism was rejected due to its lack of justification, which was argued in Mill’s Harm Principle and states that the only justified intervention is preventing harm to others. Subsequently the concept of Libertarian Paternalism or Nudge Paternalism has been advocated as a guiding principle for policy making by Sunstein and Thaler. Under Nudge Paternalism, private and public institutions such as corporates, universities or governments affect people’s behaviour while also respecting freedom of choice. The essential difference to Paternalism is its interference with persons who have not yet made their own substantially voluntary choice on a subject matter, in contrast to the Paternalistic policy maker who tries to override an existing choice if he perceives it as mistaken and non-welfare maximizing.

Nudge Paternalism has been under much scrutiny by philosophers, economists and policy makers because despite its regard for freedom, it impedes on autonomy. I will present Aggregate Welfare as behavioural economists’ approach to Paternalism and point out its problem before explaining the case of Perfectionism and Asymmetric Paternalism, which strongly encourage policies such as the ‘automatic enrolment of university students in gym membership, whilst allowing the option of opting out by turning in a form’. Aggregate welfare assumes that individual preferences are homogenous and policy makers can maximize welfare by promoting certain choices and condemning others. Yet the problem arises due to the heterogeneity of individuals, i.e. the retirement savings plan example which I assume the reader to be familiar with – consumption smoothing might not apply to some people who are maximizing their welfare by not saving for the future due to a strong preference for present...

Bibliography: Rabin, M (2011). Healthy Habits: Some Thoughts on The Role Of Public Policy in Healthful Eating and Exercise Under Limited Rationality. University of California – Berkeley.
Feinberg, J (1986). Harm to Self. Oxford University Press. Chapter 17, Section 3.
Cass Sunstein (2006). Preferences, Paternalism, and Liberty. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement, 59, pp 233­264.
Hausman, D and Welch, B. (2010). The Journal of Political Philosophy. Debate: To Nudge or Not to Nudge. 18 (1), p123-136.
Arneson J. (1980). Mill versus Paternalism. In: Ethics. University of Chicago Press. p470-489.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Autonomy in Moral and Political Philosophy. Available: Last accessed 10th Nov 2013.
Conly, S. (2012). Justifying Coercive Paternalism. In: Against Autonomy. Cambridge University Press.
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