Why “nudge” is more often than not a socially conservative idea

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, on Thaler and Sunstein, here is one excerpt:

There is a common pattern here: Society is unwilling to resort to outright, direct coercion either to keep people married or to keep them from immigrating illegally. We don’t in fact have the resources to do that, nor would we be willing to stomach the required violence. Conservative social policy is thus reborn in the form of a nudge, because that’s what restrictions look like in a violence-averse society.

An especially controversial conservative nudge is all the policy steps and regulatory restrictions and funding cuts that make it harder for women to get abortions. Many Americans must now travel a considerable distance to reach a qualified abortion provider, in some cases hundreds of miles. The cost is discouraging. And the greater inconvenience widens the gap of time between decision and final outcome, perhaps inducing some women to change their minds or simply let the plan go unfulfilled. Yet it is still possible to get an abortion, albeit with greater effort.


I find it striking that nudge theorists usually market the idea using relatively “liberal” examples, such as improving public services. How much we view nudge as freedom-enhancing or as a sinister manipulation may depend on the context in which the nudge is placed. Neither conservatives nor liberals should be so quick to condemn or approve of nudge per se.

Do read the whole thing.


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