Libertarian paternalism

There is a new Econoblog, Mario Rizzo vs. Richard Thaler.  Here is Mario in closing:

Richard wants to use the word "libertarian" to differentiate his
paternalism from the traditional variants.  Yet he uses the word in a
fuzzy way.  He wants to define libertarian along a continuous variable
— the cost of exercising the exit option.  However, libertarianism, as
every libertarian understands it, uses a bright-line test — who
imposes the cost?

The phrase "libertarian paternalism" is misleading.  It isn’t libertarian, but I don’t mean this point in the usual "rage against governmental coercion" sort of way.  A more consistent Thaler would simply emphasize that both paternalism and coercion are often ill-defined concepts or perhaps matters of degree.  Thaler wants to shock us by rejecting non-paternalism but when pressed he denies the underlying distinctions behind his big claim in the first place.  In other words, the whole debate should be focused on specific proposals, there is less to the philosophy than meets the eye. 


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