Thursday, August 21, 2008

Nudge - Libertarian Paternalism

Certainly, the most important quality of the American spirit and American culture is a self-reliance and a rugged individuality. However, it is unreasonable to conclude that people always, or even often, make the decision that is in their own best interest. In fact, recent developments have shown that markets are not inherently rationale, and people will vote and act in direct conflict to the own self interest - often for simple reasons of inertia. For this reason, we have laws and regulations - speed limits are a good example.

An excellent analysis of this situation, as well as a practical position on what "government" could and should do, is the new book "Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness" by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. The government, as well as society, should not seek to force or mandate good behavior, but there is much that can be done to encourage and offer incentives for behavior that benefits the individual as well as society. One of their most basic examples is a hypothetical description of how cafeterias offer food. While not limiting choice and freedom at all, authorities can encourage people to make healthier choices simply based on arrangement of food.

It's an interesting and pragmatic blend of conservative and liberal approaches which they call "libertarian paternalism." I recommend checking it out.

No comments: