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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Obama, Sunstein, and "libertarian paternalism"

From a very scary hagiography in the New York Times Magazine:

Libertarian paternalists would have school cafeterias put the fruit before the fried chicken, because students are more likely to grab the first food they see. They support a change in Illinois law that asks drivers renewing their licenses to choose whether they want to be organ donors. The simple act of having to choose meant that more people signed up. Ideas like these, taking human idiosyncrasies into account, might revive an old technocratic hope: that society could be understood so perfectly that it might be improved. The elaboration of behavioral economics, which seeks to uncover the ways in which people are predictably irrational, “is the most exciting intellectual development of my lifetime,” Sunstein told me.

The title of the article is "Cass Sunstein Wants to Nudge Us." The word "nudge" in the title is an allusion to the title of a recent book that Sustein co-wrote. But you have to understand: by "nudge," Sunstein means "turning your life into something run the way he and his ilk think it should be run" — nothing less than that.

It is the nanny state. It is the statist impossible utopia that Barack Obama and folks like Sunstein have in their pointy heads as the America they want to build, as they systematically dismantle everything in the America that exists.

"Libertarian paternalism" is an oxymoron. What Sunstein and Obama are doing is just arrogant paternalism, period. Instead of anything remotely resembling real libertarianism, Sunstein is promoting the notion of government regulation so subtle, so perceptive, so ... well, just so damned clever that it won't really seem like much of a bother to do what Sunstein and Obama and the government want you to do. You'll think it's your own idea!

'Cause they're smarter than you and me, see? Get it? If you don't, then just keep clinging to your guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like you or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment. Something. You moron, why do you think you're even remotely qualified to run your own life? Sheesh.

[/sarcasm off] Seriously, folks, this article will tell you everything you need to know about why Cass Sunstein is my worst dread as a potential Obama SCOTUS nominee. I am so, so very glad that he's a pasty white guy!

Posted by Beldar at 10:01 PM in Current Affairs, Law (2010), Obama, Politics (2010) | Permalink


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(1) Paul_In_Houston made the following comment | May 16, 2010 11:05:31 AM | Permalink

Cause they're smarter than you and me, see? ...
[/sarcasm off]

WHAT sarcasm, Sir?

I truly believe that people who support controls and nanny-state ism almost certainly consider themselves as the ones who should be telling others what to do. They don't need such telling, so obviously their rules can't be applied to them.

See how simple it is? :-)

(2) Insufficiently Sensitive made the following comment | May 16, 2010 12:25:40 PM | Permalink

Thanks for the heads-up.

(3) daleyrocks made the following comment | May 16, 2010 9:13:14 PM | Permalink

Beldar - They are not only smarter than us, but they know what is best for us. Just think about all the poor choices I would make in life without the guidance of my liberal overlords.

(4) TomP made the following comment | May 16, 2010 10:04:23 PM | Permalink

"Libertarian Paternalism" is certainly an oxymoron. But somehow, "Progressivist Maternalism" has a more realistic ring to it, especially in an era where "soft tyranny" seems popular.

(5) Anon made the following comment | May 16, 2010 10:10:22 PM | Permalink

There's a huge difference between putting the fruit first in line but leaving the fried chicken and banning the fried chicken entirely.

I have no objection to the government asking questions. ("Would you like to sign up as an organ donor?" when you renew your license) or expressing a preference for something in a list.

I do object to the government removing or limiting my choices.

(6) Paul Hsieh made the following comment | May 16, 2010 10:14:33 PM | Permalink

The arrogance of the Nudgers is breathtaking, because it's based on a "we know better than you simpletons" attitude:


...[L]ibertarian paternalism in essence says, “Don’t worry — we’ll do your thinking for you.” Sunstein’s book explicitly compares Americans to a bunch of Homer Simpsons in need of such guidance. If Americans surrender their minds to the government, they become easy prey for demagogues and dictators.

Once we concede the legitimacy of “nudging,” nudges will inevitably escalate. Over time, libertarian paternalism will become less “libertarian” and more “paternalistic.” The government that initially nudges you to save 5% of your income may next nudge you to save 25%. Or buy more vegetables. Or drive fewer miles. And once a default is set, government could make opting out increasingly difficult, then impossible.

...Of course, it’s entirely legitimate for individuals to voluntarily “nudge” themselves to achieve their long-term goals. Parents saving for their kids’ college expenses might have their bank automatically deduct a portion of their paychecks into a separate account, thus removing the temptation to spend that money now. A dieter might put the chocolates in the back of the pantry to put them out of mind.

But an individual must make these choices for himself, based on his rational assessment of his needs and goals. These choices are his responsibility — and his right. The government cannot and should not be making those choices for him. Government should never tell Americans to choose between slavery and freedom, with slavery as the default but an option to select freedom. The only proper function of government is to protect our freedoms.

(7) Reasoner made the following comment | May 16, 2010 10:29:05 PM | Permalink

Paul Hsieh said: The government that initially nudges you to save 5% of your income may next nudge you to save 25%.

Do not be so naive! The government would "nudge" you to save nothing but to work harder and give more to them ("It's patriotic to pay taxes!") because they know how to spend it better than you.

Then once you quit working and making money for them, they will "nudge" you to go off to the terminal camps where they have nice shower chambers for you....

(8) Walter Sobchak made the following comment | May 16, 2010 10:58:45 PM | Permalink

The American polity collapsing as the people turn around and scream at the government: "Mother, please, I'd rather do it myself!"

For the young folks in the audience:

(9) Gregory Koster made the following comment | May 16, 2010 11:16:22 PM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: Yup, Sunstein is a 200 proof terror in waiting so far as the Court is concerned. But his present spot as regulatory czar lets him do plenty of damage. Someone needs to investigated if he's plagarized anything in his vast corpus, given the plagarism scandals that are washing around Kagan. Given the strong Harvard background Sunstein flaunts, plagarism is a strong bet. To be sure, he's not likely to be nominated while the Dems have a Senate majority, but best to start the research now before the coverup begins. Bring down Sunstein, and you might break the "plagarism-is-only-a-problem-if-the-peons-do-it" attitude that is Harvard's latest poison to be spread into the American bloodstream.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(10) Joseph Hertzlinger made the following comment | May 16, 2010 11:23:33 PM | Permalink

The problem isn't the nudge. The problem is what they'll do when a nudge doesn't work.

(11) Mike K made the following comment | May 16, 2010 11:23:39 PM | Permalink

My concern, among others, is the concept that doctors who drop out of the various government health plans and decide to just accept cash and credit cards, in other words a market system, will be forced to accept those programs which ban cash practice. There is already such a law being considered in Massachusetts.

It is the law in Canada but is being ignored as more and more private clinics open in defiance of the law. The determination of the supreme court in Canada that the government health plan is NOT providing health care is what has encouraged them to go to private practice (with no insurance) the past several years.

When you are compelled, it suggests that the "libertarian socialists" or whatever they call themselves, are having trouble with volunteers.

(12) Gregory Koster made the following comment | May 16, 2010 11:26:08 PM | Permalink

Dear Walter Sobchek: I'll see you your splendid Anacin reference and raise you one Allan Sherman. This particular parody might be profitably revived as the theme song in the age of The One.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(13) Richard made the following comment | May 17, 2010 12:01:52 AM | Permalink

Hmm...I can accept the argument for putting the fruit first in the lunch line, but it's quite a stretch to compare that to getting people to sign up for organ donation. Also, the way it's described is quite sinister, in that it's psychological manipulation masquerading as "choice" and "freedom". It's what any advertising agency does to push a product that you don't need and don't want, i.e., they "create" the psychological need. And anyone who's had any experience with sales and/or religious proselytizers surely knows how most people find it hard to say "no" to someone who presents himself as just so gosh-darned good intentioned that, sure, you'll at least take one of their catalogs/bibles or buy a box of whatever it is they're selling.

And when it's private sales, where you're not compelled to go to that person's store or church, or when you can order unwanted solicitors off of your own property, then that's fine.

But when this kind of tactic is employed at the institutional level for common services such as driver's license renewal, then it becomes a problem. In other words, one might say it's an infringement of "procedural" privacy, as opposed to "substantive" privacy.

(14) Claude Hopper made the following comment | May 17, 2010 12:46:59 AM | Permalink

Good Ole Cass published an paper regarding our great justice system (2002?). He said that US court of Appeals typically found for the plaintiff 63% of the time if the randomly selected 3 judge panel were all Democratic appointees. The plaintiff won only 38% of the time if the panel was made up of three judges appointed by a Republican. Justice is not blind.

(15) rickl made the following comment | May 17, 2010 1:54:02 AM | Permalink

(10) Joseph Hertzlinger made the following comment | May 16, 2010 11:23:33 PM | Permalink
The problem isn't the nudge. The problem is what they'll do when a nudge doesn't work.

Yep. The government began requiring warning labels on cigarette packs in the 1970s in an effort to get people to quit smoking. Today we have confiscatory taxation, and laws banning smoking on private property.

(16) Lee Moore made the following comment | May 17, 2010 2:42:07 AM | Permalink

If the choice is being forced to do something by the government, or being nudged to do it, in a way that allows me to avoid the nudge, then I'll take the nudge system. But that's not really what it's about. The real idea is to expand the area of government interference, by making the next set of ordering about seem more acceptable - by letting people opt out for a while. Of course the obligation to go to the trouble of opting out is itself a state imposition, but I don't think that's the most powerful argument that can be deployed against these nannies. What they should really be asked is this.

"You've given us some examples of things which the government currently doesn't regulate which you would like to put onto a government nudge system. So on those matters, we're going to get more government. But where should we use the nudge system to get less government ? The nudge system could also be used for things that the government currently does regulate, not on the nudge system, but on the do it or else system. So give us a list of the things that you'd like moved off the current government do it or else system and put onto the nudge system instead, so that people can opt out of obeying if they don't want to obey."

I don't think it would be a long list.

(17) Brett made the following comment | May 17, 2010 6:15:04 AM | Permalink

Calling such tyranny "libertarian" is the usual lying newspeak. The left has lost all benefit of the doubt.

(18) ZZMike made the following comment | May 17, 2010 12:46:03 PM | Permalink

"Libertarian paternalists would have school cafeterias put the fruit before the fried chicken, because students are more likely to grab the first food they see. "

I thought of the supermarket's practice of putting candy &c at the checkout counter, where kids are likely to get their parents to buy it. And putting certain brands at eye level.

But I realized that this is the store's choice. The government might find some excuse to tell schools that this might be a good idea, and leave it to the schools. The gentle nudge.

Here in California, we have an Air Resources Board which was ready to pass a "ruling" that would have made auto makers put a special embedded window treatment (so as to reduce interior heating). The public was not amused; others found out that this treatment would block radio signals (like those used for toll-road meters, GPS signals, and even tracking bracelets worn by criminals). They backed off that one.

Now they want all homes equipped with CO detectors.

As for the organ donation thing, feminists have a rallying cry "keep your hands off my uterus!" I'd counter for this one with "keep your hands off my liver!"

Had enough?
Vote conservative.

(19) Milhouse made the following comment | May 18, 2010 12:58:07 AM | Permalink

David Friedman has discussed this book a time or two.

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