*Escaping Paternalism*

The authors are Mario Rizzo and Glen Whitman, and the subtitle is Rationality, Behavioral Economics, and Public Policy.  This is the most comprehensive, definitive attempt to respond to paternalism and nudge that I have seen, written from a (mostly) libertarian and partially Austrian perspective.  Excerpt:

In our discussion of preferences, the overriding theme was that preferences need not conform to rigid models.  We should countenance a much wider range of preferences, in both form and content, than economists have been inclined to accept.  But does the same permissive attitude apply to beliefs?…we will argue for a more permissive attitude towards beliefs.  Much like our position on preferences, our position on beliefs is that economists, and to a lesser extent other social scientists, have become slaves to an exceedingly narrow conception of both the function and operation of beliefs.

They argue for nudge as personal advice rather than as policy, and overall defend the John Stuart Mill tradition of limited paternalism at most.

Comments

What about false beliefs?

This is the most comprehensive, definitive attempt to respond to paternalism and nudge that I have seen...

Sounds like it except that the book is priced for irrelevancy outside of the reference shelves of academia.

The link in the post is to Amazon, who are charging $39.99 for the paperback and $37.99 for the Kindle version. It’s not cheap, but is that unreasonable for a new paperback university press book?

You can get the Kindle version of the book for $19.80 https://www.amazon.com/Escaping-Paternalism-Rationality-Behavioral-Economics-ebook/dp/B081HVWYG9/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1580155377&sr=8-1

...so the spectrum of human values, beliefs, and attitudes is much too broad for economists & social-engineers to even model correctly, much less direct & influence at a large scale. Who knew?

The scary thing is, with sufficiently advanced AI and enough data, you could model preferences across the population. You can find out who will win a vote ex ante, and that probability will be updated in real-time with each candidate appearance and each event that may affect a sub-population of voters. Rudimentary attempts at this have already been made, and may have helped Trump win in 2016, but we're just getting started on a wild ride.

Why is this scary?

George Stigler noted many years ago that some might have a preference for drinking crank case oil. How much more general than that can one get?

But all that will result is a downward sloping demand curve for said oil. :-)

Actually, some countries are trying interesting experiences in nudging. Brazil's Economy Minister, Mr. Guedes, has officially declared that Brazil might wave new taxes on sweet foods and alcoholic beverages to rise revenue and influence the country's population's intake.

Fine, but I think a lot of the worry about paternalism came about because "nudge" was misreported as mandate or inforcement, not just a choice.

Thaler and Sunstein were very clear about that in their (much cheaper, nudge) book. A nudge, from the originators, is never a mandate.

Ah well, I guess the is a case of the panic having to die down before the idea could be fully examined.

Under Cameron, iirc, the UK government was looking at this idea of nudges. They concluded that it was the conduct of government officials that needed to be changed. There were ways of communicating that elicited better responses. One example was taxation; having the focus on the vast majority of people being reliable and prompt tax payers elicited a higher compliance than focusing on enforcement and shaming cheats.

Vaccines are a good example of how badly this is done. And typical of short sighted academics; actually dealing with a real problem is too hard, so let's make up some imaginary ones. There are ways of approaching this issue that would result in higher compliance; one comes to mind. One of the complaints about vaccines are the quantity and breadth. There are a few situations where there are serious consequences of lack of vaccination. How about focusing on those diseases? The kids don't die, they don't get whooping cough. The other vaccines can then be sold.

Another is the failure to convince by very poor communication strategies. This is an issue in Canada as well, and I was listening to a discussion on a serious news channel where they talk about this type of stuff for half an hour, with a bunch of doctors and public health officials. Great interviewer as well. The discussion was all very good, but one piece of information that anyone who has opinions about this issue and knows about wasn't touched even remotely; the possibility of side effects. My reaction to the discussion was that I was being manipulated, and I vaccinated my kids and know the benefits. I knew people who were disabled by polio. Nothing they said was untrue, but anyone with doubts or questions would be unsatisfied because of what was left out. How about a simple description of what would happen in the population of a province or state if no one was immunised and if everyone was immunised for whooping cough, comparing the week off work with sick kids with a few dying to minor discomfort for a few with one every four years having serious effects. Whatever the numbers are.

So again, nudges are about being skilful at convincing people. There are very good reasons not to trust in the wisdom of what comes out of the mouths of government agencies. So convince me, don't lie, don't try to manipulate.

"How about focusing on those diseases?"

What are the vaccines that you suggest should no longer be required?
https://www.immunize.org/laws/

I don't know. All I know is that there are substantially more now than when my daughter got them a few decades ago.

Again, the hard reality of being able to convince people is what is important. If you dropped a couple and got a substantially higher level of vaccination, how does that change the public health situation?

The idea of nudges came up because non compliance or poor decision making in many many spheres has become a problem. It was taken as a strategy to manipulate people, as if they were the problem. My point is simply that it may be that how the various authorities are approaching the issue, how the data is presented and how the programs are implemented are in fact a nudge towards non compliance or bad decisions.

Die Haare! auf unserem Kopf sind nummeriert

While there are a few situations where a nudge is almost certainly valid (use your seatbelt, get polio vaccine) there are more where the nudge is wrong (the old food pyramid) or none of the gov's business (smoking, your weight). Nudges can also all too easily start to include propaganda. I favor doing no nudging at all except for those absolutely necessary (hurricane evacuations, heat alert).

The food pyramid was a product of the Department of Agriculture, so there is that.

More generally though, I don't like the argument "because we can never know!" There are lots of things we know. Exercise is good. Overeating is bad. Nudge with the mere availability of a company 5k, and healthy choices in the cafeteria.

Do nudges by corporations, that enable them to take money out of your pockets, deserve the same scrutiny, or are they exempt?

Nudges go both ways.

I really like Prof. Oren Bar Gill's book, Seduction by Contract--a book which analyses through a behavioral econ lens, marketing practices in the credit card, mortgage lending, cable and cell phone industries.

Nudges by government--making costs transparent, taking certain practices off the table--make markets more efficient. While I will read this book, I doubt that it will make markets more efficient.

"Patriarchalism is a political theory that arose in England in the seventeenth century that defended the concept of absolute power for the monarchy, through language that emphasized the "paternal" power of the king over the state and his subjects." The "paternalism" as used here is referring to the government, which historically meant the monarchy, and the monarchy meant patriarchy. The history of the authoritarian meant male authority over the feminine. How many of today's authoritarians are feminists? Duh.

Parternalism Uber Alles!

"They argue for nudge as personal advice rather than as policy, and overall defend the John Stuart Mill tradition of limited paternalism at most."

Interesting. Purchased on Kindle.

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