Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The perplexing banality of libertarian paternalism

"Despite the welcome weight Thaler and Sunstein throw behind a few genuinely liberty-enhancing policies, the thrust of the conceptual renovation behind the term libertarian paternalism is to empower, not limit, political elites. In the libertarian paternalist scheme, the rules will allow for an easy opt-out only so long as those writing the rules happen to care about preserving choice. The 'libertarian' part of the equation is secured by good will alone. If that falters, we are left with paternalism, plain and simple. Old-fashioned libertarianism, it turns out, had a great deal to say about the choice architecture of politics. Given the intense attractions of power and the limits of benevolence, liberty (and therefore the commonweal) is best secured by setting in place a structure of rules that strictly limits the discretion of the powerful. That includes the discretion even of choice-loving technocrats." —Will Wilkinson, reviewing the wildly popular Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

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