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How Far to Nudge?

Assessing Behavioural Public Policy

Peter John

This book addresses the wave of innovation and reforms that has been called the nudge or behavioural public policy agenda, which has emerged in many countries since the mid-2000s. Nudge involves developing behavioural insights to solve complex policy problems, such as unemployment, obesity and the environment, as well as improving the delivery of policies by reforming standard operating procedures. It reviews the changes that have taken place, in particular the greater use of randomised evaluations, and discusses how far nudge can be used more generally in the policy process. The book argues that nudge has a radical future if it develops a more bottom up approach involving greater feedback and more engagement with citizens.
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Chapter 7: The ethics of nudge

Assessing Behavioural Public Policy

Peter John

Extract

is libertarian paternalism. Thaler and Sunstein (2008; see also Camerer et al. 2003) argued for this position as a way to justify the extensive use of behavioural interventions. The authors recognised that the term could be seen as an oxymoron, as it appears contradictory: how could something be paternalistic, which is about taking away autonomy, making a decision in place of people acting purely on their own, but at the same time be libertarian, where individuals are free from constraint to follow their preferences and tastes no matter what the consequences are for them? Although apparently contradictory, it is possible to defend this position.

The basic idea behind the libertarian paternalist argument is that individuals are free not to follow a nudge and to take the opposite action if they decide to do so. The whole set-up behind a default encourages this. For example, the driver licensing website that prompts organ donation, or even defaults to that choice if individuals take no action, may be designed so people are free to reject the prompt or default and with relatively little cost choose the option that they want so as to satisfy their preferences. The paternalistic side is that the public authority is hinting or arranging matters to influence the choices of individuals, so that they end up choosing the one that is socially desirable and/or better for them, perhaps unconsciously or by being prompted to do so. There is a real-world influence of the state and public authority,...

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