Posts Tagged ‘libertarian paternalism’

Roundtable on libertarian paternalism to be held in Washington D.C. later this month

February 5, 2009

America’s Future Foundation, an think tank comprised of libertarian and conservative members, is sponsoring a panel discussion of Nudge in Washington D.C. on February 18th at 6:30 p.m. Cost: Free for organization members, $5 for non-members.

Many view Libertarian Paternalism as oxymoronic. Despite the name, can this idea offer a “third way” and improve our decision making processes in a beneficial way?  Or, is Libertarian Paternalism another way for “choice architects” to manipulate individuals into behaving in ways they view as correct and beneficial, while restricting our individual ability to choose?  Understanding the policy implications of this idea is especially relevant as Cass Sunstein was recently tapped to head the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama Administration.

The full slate of panelists will be announced soon. More information about the event can be found here.

Addendum: An audio tape of the event is here.

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18th century monarchs can be libertarian paternalists too

July 31, 2008

Frederick the Great of Prussia saw the potato’s potential to help feed his nation and lower the price of bread, but faced the challenge of overcoming the people’s prejudice against the plant. When he issued a 1774 order for his subjects to grow potatoes as protection against famine, the town of Kolberg replied: “The things have neither smell nor taste, not even the dogs will eat them, so what use are they to us?” Trying a less direct approach to encourage his subjects to begin planting potatoes, Frederick used a bit of reverse psychology: he planted a royal field of potato plants and stationed a heavy guard to protect this field from thieves. Nearby peasants naturally assumed that anything worth guarding was worth stealing, and so snuck into the field and snatched the plants for their home gardens. Of course, this was entirely in line with Frederick’s wishes.

From this history of the potato via Rory Sutherland, who submits it as an “interesting example of libertarian paternalism. A worse king would have mandated the consumption of potatoes, or at least their cultivation.” Sutherland will have a nudge for readers on Friday. Check back then.

Assorted links and excerpts

May 7, 2008

Michael Schrage of MIT wishes Amazon.com’s recommendation choice architecture could automatically distinguish between books he buys, books he browses, and books he buys as gifts for other people.

Lengthy interview with Richard Thaler in Fairfield Weekly by a former Ph.D. student of his, Phil Maymin. Thaler took the World’s Smallest Political Quiz and came up as a “libertarian.” But he corrected the record and called himself a “libertarian paternalist.” Thaler also explains the origins of the phrase libertarian paternalism.

The history of this phrase is that I was presenting a paper here at the University of Chicago on the “Save More Tomorrow” program, and a guy in the Economics Department was my discussant and he accused me of being a paternalist. Which as you know is the biggest insult that you can accuse anybody of being at the University of Chicago. And I said, “Well, I guess, but there’s no coercion here, so, maybe you should call me a libertarian paternalist.” That’s where it started.

David Leonhardt on how loss aversion affects our sense of inflation.

Dan Goldstein recalls a stickk.com-esque commitment strategy for finishing his dissertation. The ending is great.

I am reminded of the time I was a postdoc at Columbia University, on the job market, and deep in a publish-or-perish the phase of my career. I instituted a similar (though lower-tech) mechanism. My rule was that if I didn’t write a certain number of pages each day, I would lose five dollars. I think I lost about $60 on the scheme, though it did land me a job I love.

I remember being seriously conflicted about whom to give the money to if I procrastinated. I felt that if I gave it to a good cause, I would be continually justifying my procrastination as charitable. I felt that if I gave it to a bad cause, that would be evil. I also feared that I would start justifying my procrastination by telling myself the bad cause isn’t so bad. (Sound far-fetched? The idea that we might infer our preferences from our actions is a key, if not field-defining, idea from social psychology.)

In the end, I chose to leave the money on a seat on the New York subway. Maybe a good person would find it, maybe a bad person would find it, all I was certain of was regretting my procrastination. Given that you’re not evil, if you found $5 on the 1/9 train around 2005, I hope that it inched you closer to your goals.

Amol Agrawal thinks a restaurant in Powai is using behavioral economics to jack up his bill.

Paul Sweeney sends an email about an anti-nudge at his gym. What awaits members, courtesy of the gym’s owners, after they leave the dressing room following healthy workouts? Snickers bars on the counter.


A nudge on a hot-button issue: Abortion

May 1, 2008

Josh Patashnik at The Plank comments on two Missouri proposals meant to discourage abortions.

The first is a ballot-initiative requiring doctors to psychologically evaluate women seeking abortions to assess whether their decisions have been influenced by external pressure. Doctors would ask: “Is someone else encouraging you to have this abortion? Do you want this abortion to satisfy your own needs or are you looking to do this to please someone else?”

The second is a recently passed state house bill, also in Missouri, requiring doctors to offer women seeking abortions a chance to view an ultrasound and feel the fetus’s heartbeat. Similar measures have been passed in other states.

Continue reading the post here.