Libertarian Paternalism: A New Doctrine?


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Bartholomew Roberts
October 25, 2004, 06:33 PM
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=405940

The idea of libertarian paternalism might seem to be an oxymoron, but it is both possible and legitimate for private and public institutions to affect behavior while also respecting freedom of choice. Often people's preferences are ill-formed, and their choices will inevitably be influenced by default rules, framing effects, and starting points. In these circumstances, a form of paternalism cannot be avoided. Equipped with an understanding of behavioral findings of bounded rationality and bounded self-control, libertarian paternalists should attempt to steer people's choices in welfare-promoting directions without eliminating freedom of choice. It is also possible to show how a libertarian paternalist might select among the possible options and to assess how much choice to offer. Examples are given from many areas, including savings behavior, labor law, and consumer protection.

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Brett Bellmore
October 25, 2004, 08:52 PM
This should really go without saying, but it would be a mistake to take anything Cass Sunstein says as indicative of trends in libertarian thought.

atek3
October 25, 2004, 11:09 PM
not a new doctrine. I don't call my beliefs "paternalism" but I give "hey i wouldn't do that :cuss: if I was you, man," advice to people. If I see people going over their head in credit card debt I suggest they restrain consumption and pay off their debts asap. Is that "paternalism?"

atek3

Nightfall
October 25, 2004, 11:12 PM
Rely on general apathy to change, by selecting a default "good" answer in order to increase general welfare. Interesting! Of course, this would rely on the benevolence of those choosing the default. That doesn't combine well with libertarian distrust of gov't. This is addressed on page 42-43 by stating that offering an opt-out is a strong check on abuses. But with the idea of penalizing certain "wrong options", this sounds risky. That sounds like a slippery slope to simply over-penalizing "wrong" choices out of viability.

I think that those who emphasize the paternalism part of "libertarian paternalist" push too far with thoughts of inducing penalties for not choosing the "correct" default choice. No matter how confident one is in the "correctness" of the default answer to a choice, imposing penalties for diverging from that choice seems anathema to libertarian philosophy. I contend that at that point, you have only the illusion of freedom of choice, because penalizing one of the options is beyond acceptable coercion. Blatant coercion through threat of imposed action outside of the natual consequences of a choice is a violation of the NAP, IMHO.

Minimal paternalism strikes me as the only thing close enough to true libertarianism to satisfy me. Basically, I can stand having to uncheck a box on a form rather than check it, so long as there is no cost for deviating from the default plan.

Brian Dale
October 26, 2004, 12:31 AM
I suggest they restrain consumption and pay off their debts asap. Is that "paternalism?"atek3, at the risk of replying like a dork to what might have been a rhetorical question, I'll say that it's not. You're not enforcing your advice with government power.

cuchulainn
October 26, 2004, 07:43 AM
By accepting that paternalism is a bad word, you are buying into the leftist propaganda that the problems of the world are due to unenlightened male troglodytes crushing the spirits of women and children ... kumbaya, my lord, kumbaya.

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