Shoves, Nudges, and Freedom

Cass Sunstein reviews a book by Sarah Conly on coercive paternalism in the NYRB this month:

A natural objection [to paternalism] is that autonomy is an end in itself and not merely a means. On this view, people should be entitled to choose as they like, even if they end up choosing poorly. . . . Conly responds that when government makes (some) decisions for us, we gain not only in personal welfare but also in autonomy, if only because our time is freed up to deal with what most concerns us. . . .

Conly’s most controversial claim is that because the health risks of smoking are so serious, the government should ban it. She is aware that many people like to smoke, that a ban could create black markets, and that both of these points count against a ban. But she concludes that education, warnings, and other nudges are insufficiently effective, and that a flat prohibition is likely to be justified by careful consideration of both benefits and costs, including the costs to the public of treating lung cancer and other consequences of smoking.

As Big Beverage’s tactics come closer and closer to those of big tobacco, might it be the next target?

For those who’d like government to influence decisions in subtler ways, check out Kate Greenwood’s review of recent health care proposals from Richard Frank and Christopher Robertson. Very interesting ideas there.

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