Posts Tagged ‘nudge’

Cass Sunstein, Harvard law professor and Obama advisor, will head the OIRA.

I have devoted several posts in the past on Sunstein and his brand of behavorial economics. He is the author of the book Nudge and the originator of the misleading term ‘libertarian paternalism’ (which should probably be renamed non-coercive paternalism, soft paternalism or choice-preserving paternalism). Will Wilkinson wrote an excellent (and fairly critical) review of Nudge in Reason magazine; it should be mandatory reading for anyone who wishes to know more about the pros and cons of the idea.

In short, Sunstein is no libertarian. What is important though — as Eugene Volokh puts it — is that he is brilliant, thoughtful, and ideologically probably as good as libertarians can hope for from the Obama administration. He is in my view the best pick Obama has unveiled so far.

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An unusual tactic to stop make men from peeing on the floor:

Authorities at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam have etched the image of a black housefly into each urinal. It seems that men usually do not pay much attention to where they aim, which can create a bit of a mess. But if you give them a target, they can’t help but try to hit it. Similar designs have been implemented in urinals around the world, including mini soccer goals, bulls-eyes, and urine video games (seriously). Do they work? Since the bugs were etched into the airport urinals, spillage has decreased by 80 percent.

This fits into the Sunstein philosophy of nudges and ‘libertarian paternalism’ that I have posted on several times in the past.

Incidentally Sunstein, a law professor is a friend and advisor of Barack Obama. I would love it if Obama — assuming he becomes president — appoints him to the Supreme Court. Sunstein is no libertarian; however his brand of ‘libertarian paternalism’ is definitely better (and more pro-freedom) than that of any of the mainstream leftist candidates the Dems are likely to propose.

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In my previous post, I expressed my distaste for mandatory helmet laws and criticised them from a libertarian perspective.

However, it also seems apt to point out here that as far as things like helmet and seatbelt laws are concerned, there exists a middle path between coercive paternalism and complete unregulation, namely what Thaler and Sunstein call libertarian paternalism. For instance, one could have motorcycle helmet laws that allow riders to go without a helmet but only if they get a special license. To qualify for the license, a rider would have to take an extra driving course (and perhaps submit proof of health insurance). It would involve no extra tests, and getting this special license would not really be harder than getting the more regular license. However, due to the power of inertia in human behavior, and the tendency of individuals to go with the default, many people would opt to get the regular license. This system would enable people to ride without a helmet if they really want to but would also incorporate much of the safety gains of current laws.

(And I promise this is my last post on this topic today.)

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George F. Will believes that Barack Obama is a ‘libertarian paternalist’ at heart.

I had made the same point in this post from a couple of weeks back.

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