Liberal Paternalism, Nudges and Economic Policy
According to the findings of behavioural economics, individuals rarely behave as most economists would predict. Indeed, the extremely rational homo economicus comes out as an abstraction. Usually individuals suffer from several types of cognitive limitations that lead them to choose the wrong means to achieve the ends they pursue. The paper starts by offering a brief introduction to the main findings of behavioural economics. Then, it focuses on the claim that those findings provide sound ground for claiming a sort of liberal paternalism where the state can help individuals to achieve their chosen ends without interfering with their freedom of choice. This can be done by means of well thought out nudges, mainly exploiting what we know on the influence of the choice architecture. The lively debate originated by such a claim – mainly focused around the possibility of combining freedom of choice with paternalism – is briefly summarized. The main conclusion is that too little attention has been paid in that debate to the non-paternalistic justifications of economic policy and to the possibility that nudges enlarge the set of weapons at the disposal of economic policy independently from the possibility of a liberal version of paternalism.
Keywords: Nudge, paternalism, economic policy, behavioural economics
Parole chiave: Nudge, paternalismo, politica economica, economia comportamentale