The Manipulation of Choice: Ethics and Libertarian Paternalism

The Manipulation of Choice is an important book on a timely topic. Over the past decade, an increasing number of academics and policymakers have argued that it is morally legitimate for the state to use its coercive power to steer people’s choices—to “nudge” people to do what government agents believe is best for them—as long as they are free to opt out of the specified choice at a relatively low cost (see Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, “Libertarian Paternalism Is Not an Oxymoron,” University of Chicago Law Review 70, no. 4 [Fall 2003], p. 1162). Examples of libertarian paternalism include requiring shops to place soda and cigarettes at the back of the store rather than near checkout stands and encouraging citizens to save for retirement by automatically opting them into a specified investment plan. The idea is that because some people act impulsively at the grocery store, and others are too myopic or financially illiterate to set aside enough money for retirement, governments can alter the options so that people are more likely to act in ways they would act if they were relatively well informed and free from cognitive biases.

Published in: The Independent Review
2013 Volume 18 (2)