Handbook of Behavioural Change and Public Policy
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Handbook of Behavioural Change and Public Policy

Edited by Holger Straßheim and Silke Beck

Behavioural change has become a core issue of public policy. Behavioural instruments such as ‘nudging’ apply insights from behavioural economics and behavioural sciences, psychology and neurosciences across a broad range of policy areas. Behavioural insights teams and networks facilitate the global spread of behavioural public policies. Despite an ever-growing amount of literature, research has remained fragmented. This comprehensive Handbook unites interdisciplinary scholarship, with contributions critically assessing the state and direction of behavioural public policies, their normative implications and political consequences.
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Chapter 22: Nudging: ethical and political dimensions of choice architectures

Mark D. White


Nudges – the subtle manipulation of options to steer people’s decision-making in specific directions said to be in their best interests – have been embraced by governments around the world as preferable to more heavy-handed or coercive regulation of behaviour. This chapter discusses several philosophical issues with nudges, including the ignorance on the part of policy-makers regarding individuals’ true interests (the epistemic issue), the effect on autonomy of policy tools that bypass individuals’ deliberative processes (the ethical issue), and the possible deleterious effects of nudges on decision-making processes (the practical issue). This chapter also addresses the more general question raised by nudge policy about the proper role of government in the self-regarding decisions of individuals, and suggests ways to improve deliberative processes without co-opting them.

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