Paternalism, Public Health, and Behavioral Economics: A Problematic Combination
22 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2015
Date Written: December 1, 2014
Some critiques of public health legislation assume that measures restricting commercial practices should be considered paternalistic whenever they limit any consumer choices. This conception of paternalism puts government proposals to regulate industry to the same proof as 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” exacerbate this trend. Definitions of paternalism grounded in behavioral economics proceed from a flawed premise that muddies debate, narrows the range of reasons for regulating industry, and instead encourages harder paternalistic regulation of personal behavior.
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