When is a Nudge a Shove? The Case for Preference-Neutrality

41 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2009

Date Written: February 16, 2009


Bertrand Russell argued that freedom is the ability to do what you want. This definition of freedom is insufficient when - as with advances in behavioral psychology - government officials are able to subtly influence behavior by influencing the body politic's very desires. Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler demonstrate this error with libertarian paternalism, a form of paternalism that does not foreclose choice, but instead shapes citizens' preferences. While they would argue that such policies are liberty-preserving, I argue that such policies can be dangerously oppressive. To counteract the oppressive nature of Sunstein and Thaler's policies, government officials should adopt an attitude of preference-neutrality, that is, a refrain from championing certain values that reasonable people can disagree with.

Suggested Citation

Wu, Steven, When is a Nudge a Shove? The Case for Preference-Neutrality (February 16, 2009). Columbia Public Law Research, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1375616 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1375616

Steven Wu (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027-7201
United States

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