Wednesday, October 11, 2017
As the debate usually proceeds, advocates of nudging call upon the government to structure “choice architecture” to produce better decisions. If you sign up for a pension plan with your employer, perhaps the default option should be the maximum contribution to a savings plan; in turn, the enrollee must check a box to receive a different option. Choice is still present, but the employer (or the government) is suggesting that people make a particular choice. Such practices have become widespread, and the British government has created an entire “nudge unit.”
As this debate has unfolded, many conservatives and libertarians have been very critical of Thaler and Sunstein. They describe nudging as manipulation, and perhaps one step down the road to an Orwellian future based on surveillance and subtle behavioral control. When I look around though, I mostly see the nudge idea in service of the ends of social conservatives. (Read this for a broader survey of Thaler’s contributions to the economic field.)
I'm not not celebrating.