Paternalism, Public Health, and Behavioral Economics: A Problematic Combination

22 Pages Posted: 7 Jan 2015 Last revised: 8 Jan 2015

See all articles by Wendy K. Mariner

Wendy K. Mariner

Boston University School of Law; Boston University School of Public Health

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 5, 2015


Some critiques of public health regulations assume that measures directed at industry should be considered paternalistic whenever they limit any consumer choices. Given the presumption against paternalistic measures, this conception of paternalism puts government proposals to regulate industry to the same stringent proof as clearly paternalist proposals to directly regulate individuals for their own benefit. The result is to discourage regulating industry in ways that protect the public from harm and instead to encourage regulating individuals for their own good -- quite the opposite of what one would expect from a rejection of paternalism. Arguments favoring "soft paternalism" to justify some regulatory measures may exacerbate this trend. They can muddy the debate, narrow the range of reasons for regulating industry, and instead encourage harder paternalistic regulation of personal behavior.

Suggested Citation

Mariner, Wendy K., Paternalism, Public Health, and Behavioral Economics: A Problematic Combination (January 5, 2015). 46 Connecticut Law Review 1817 (2014), Available at SSRN:

Wendy K. Mariner (Contact Author)

Boston University School of Law ( email )

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United States

Boston University School of Public Health ( email )

715 Albany Street
Boston, MA 02118
United States
617-638-4626 (Phone)
617-414-1464 (Fax)

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