Behavioral Welfare Economics, Libertarian Paternalism, and the Nudge Agenda

12 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2015 Last revised: 6 May 2015

See all articles by Erik Angner

Erik Angner

Department of Philosophy, Stockholm University; Institute for Futures Studies; Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science

Date Written: May 5, 2015


Armed with a set of economic theories and a desire to influence policy and improve lives, behavioral economists have developed a doctrine variously referred to as libertarian, light/soft, or asymmetric paternalism, and a series of policy proposals collectively referred to as the nudge agenda. To its advocates, the nudge agenda allows us to improve people’s choices and thereby their well-being on their own terms at minimal cost and without interfering with their liberty or autonomy. To its critics, the nudge agenda represents an ineffective and dangerous intrusion into the sphere of personal decision-making by bureaucrats who may be no better at making decisions than the people whose choices they are trying to improve. This paper reviews what libertarian paternalism and the nudge agenda are, how their foundations differ (or not) from those of neoclassical economics, and what their promises and limitations might be.

Keywords: Behavioral economics, behavioral welfare economics, the nudge agenda

JEL Classification: B2, B4, D6

Suggested Citation

Angner, Erik, Behavioral Welfare Economics, Libertarian Paternalism, and the Nudge Agenda (May 5, 2015). GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 15-29, GMU School of Public Policy Research Paper No. 15-14, Available at SSRN: or

Erik Angner (Contact Author)

Department of Philosophy, Stockholm University ( email )

Universitetsvägen 10 D
Stockholm, 106 91


Institute for Futures Studies ( email )

Holländargatan 13
Stockholm, SE-101 31


Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science ( email )

400P Truland Building
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States


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