Paper of the week

Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein, Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness

Thaler and Sunstein have written an important book. Though costumed in the guise of pop economics, complete with a cute logo — Nudge is, in fact, a manifesto for the new paternalism. Well written, witty to the point of being charming, consistently interesting, disarmingly self-referential, and loaded with crisp summaries of the psychology literature on human fallibility, Nudge’s dust jacket is justly festooned with blurbs from luminaries. But don’t be fooled. Thaler and Sunstein charm their readers, but they are after some very big game. This is a book that both measures the inroads psychology has made into contemporary economics, and argues a compelling brief for the new paternalism. We have ways, say Thaler and Sunstein, of making you happy.

Thaler and Sunstein begin with “dogmatic anti-paternalists” in their sights. Economists, traditionally heavily represented among those opposed to paternalism, hold three mistaken beliefs about paternalism. They are: one, the belief that paternalism…

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