Eight Misconceptions About Nudges

13 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2023 Last revised: 28 Sep 2023

See all articles by Cass R. Sunstein

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: February 13, 2023


There are many misconceptions about nudges and nudging, and some of them are widespread. For example, some people believe that that nudges are manipulative; that nudges are hidden or covert; that nudges are difficult to define; that nudges are an insult to human agency; that nudges are based on excessive trust in government; that nudges exploit behavioral biases; that nudges depend on a belief that human beings are irrational; and that nudges work only at the margins, do not affect structures, and cannot accomplish much. These are mistakes. Nudges are generally transparent rather than covert or forms of manipulation; nudges are not difficult to define; nudges always respect, and often promote, human agency; because nudges insist on preserving freedom of choice, they do not put excessive trust in government; many nudges are educative, and even when they are not, they tend to make life simpler and more navigable; and some nudges have quite large impacts. It is true that for countless problems, nudges are hardly enough. They cannot eliminate poverty, unemployment, and corruption. But by itself, any individual initiative – whether it is a tax, a subsidy, a mandate, or a ban – is unlikely to solve large problems. Denting them counts as an achievement.

Keywords: Nudges, behavioral economics, default rules, manipulation

JEL Classification: D9, D91, I12

Suggested Citation

Sunstein, Cass R., Eight Misconceptions About Nudges (February 13, 2023). Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 23-20, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4357437 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4357437

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)

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Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

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