Free to Fail? Paternalistic Preferences in the United States

62 Pages Posted: 23 May 2023 Last revised: 22 Apr 2024

See all articles by Björn Bartling

Björn Bartling

University of Zurich - Department of Economics; CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Alexander W. Cappelen

Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) - Department of Economics; CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Henning Hermes

Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf - Duesseldorf Institute for Competition Economics (DICE)

Bertil Tungodden

Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) - Department of Economics

Marit Skivenes

University of Bergen

Multiple version iconThere are 4 versions of this paper

Date Written: May 16, 2023

Abstract

We study paternalistic preferences in two large-scale experiments with participants from the general population in the United States. Spectators decide whether to intervene to prevent a stakeholder, who is mistaken about the choice set, from making a choice that is not aligned with the stakeholders’ own preferences. We find causal evidence for the nature of the intervention being of great importance for the spectators’ willingness to intervene. Only a minority of the spectators implement a hard intervention that removes the stakeholder’s freedom to choose, while a large majority implement a soft intervention that provides information without restricting the choice set. This finding holds regardless of the stakeholder’s responsibility for being mistaken about the choice set – whether the source of mistake is internal or external – and in different subgroups of the population. We introduce a theoretical framework with two paternalistic types – libertarian paternalists and welfarists – and show that the two types can account for most of the spectator behavior. We estimate that about half of the spectators are welfarists and that about a third are libertarian paternalists. Our results shed light on attitudes toward paternalistic policies and the broad support for soft interventions.

Keywords: Paternalism, libertarian paternalism, welfarism, freedom to choose

JEL Classification: C91, C93, D69, D91

Suggested Citation

Bartling, Björn and Cappelen, Alexander W. and Hermes, Henning and Tungodden, Bertil and Skivenes, Marit, Free to Fail? Paternalistic Preferences in the United States (May 16, 2023). NHH Dept. of Economics Discussion Paper No. 09/2023, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4454985 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4454985

Björn Bartling

University of Zurich - Department of Economics ( email )

Zuerich, 8006
Switzerland

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute) ( email )

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679
Germany

Alexander W. Cappelen

Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) - Department of Economics ( email )

Helleveien 30
N-5035 Bergen
Norway

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679
Germany

Henning Hermes

Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf - Duesseldorf Institute for Competition Economics (DICE) ( email )

Universitaetsstr. 1
Duesseldorf, NRW 40225
Germany

Bertil Tungodden (Contact Author)

Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) - Department of Economics ( email )

Helleveien 30
N-5035 Bergen
Norway

Marit Skivenes

University of Bergen ( email )

Muséplassen 1
N-5008 Bergen, +47 55 58
Norway

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