Why Nudges Coerce: Experimental Evidence on the Architecture of Regulation

Journal of Science and Engineering Ethics (2017)

19 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2016 Last revised: 2 Nov 2020

Date Written: December 1, 2016


Critics frequently argue that nudges are more covert, less transparent, and more difficult to monitor than traditional regulatory tools. Edward Glaeser, for example, argues that “[p]ublic monitoring of soft paternalism is much more difficult than public monitoring of hard paternalism.” As one of the leading proponents of soft paternalism, Cass Sunstein, acknowledges, while “[m]andates and commands are highly visible,” soft paternalism, “and some nudges in particular[,] may be invisible.” In response to this challenge, proponents of nudging argue that invisibility for any given individual in a particular choice environment is compatible with “careful public scrutiny” of the nudge. This paper offers first of its kind experimental evidence that tests whether nudges are, in fact, compatible with careful public scrutiny. Using two sets of experiments, the paper argues that, even when made visible, nudges attract less scrutiny than their “hard law” counterparts.

Keywords: nudge, regulation, legal theory, behavioral economics

Suggested Citation

Hill, Adam Douglas, Why Nudges Coerce: Experimental Evidence on the Architecture of Regulation (December 1, 2016). Journal of Science and Engineering Ethics (2017), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2886191 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2886191

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