Russ Roberts on the failings of Sunstein/Thaler’s Nudge:
My biggest problem with nudging people via the power of the state is that the process could would likely be corrupted via special interests. Why should we assume that the state will nudge us toward the good? Wouldn’t there be a tendency toward corruption? Nudging people toward what cronies want seems just as bad as forcing people to do what cronies want.
Having people in power act in my best interest is a little creepy even in a case like this. But the bigger problem is knowing my best interest. For years, the government has systematically pushed the idea that fat is bad and carbs are good. But what if they have it wrong, as Gary Taubes and others suggest they have. What if fat is good and carbs are bad? What if the government has been nudging people toward obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Oops! Maybe it would be better to allow more competition in ideas and less nudging. I’ll nudge myself, thank you very much.
I saw Sunstein present Nudge at the Cato Institute a few years ago. The guy was quite audacious, to preach to a bunch of hard core libertarians about libertarian paternalism. I echo Roberts’ comments. Who are we to decide what is good? Or, the better question, who is the government to decide what is good? The example that scares me is opting out of organ donation. Cass Sunstein thinks that we should all be organ donors. So let’s opt everyone into organ donations! Let people opt out, right? This presumes not only that the state knows the best way to use your body, but that the state owns your body in the first place. That you are merely a cog of society, and your organs can be appropriated, assuming you dont proactively decline. I would start off with a presumption of liberty here (surprise). I once had this argument with a very bright lawyer. I found he was not able to see my point, and I was unable to see his (the Sunsteinian view).
Speaking of which, I’m reading Daniel Kahneman’s new book, Thinking Fast, and Slow. It is fantastic. I will write about it soon.