Cass Sunstein At The New Republic: ‘Why Paternalism Is Your Friend’

Full piece here.

Some information about the new behavioral economics.

He’s attempting to clarify his position:

‘We should immediately distinguish between paternalism about means and paternalism about ends. Means paternalism is like a GPS. You can ignore what the GPS says and try your own route, but if you do so, there is a serious risk that you will get lost. To return to the fuel efficiency example: means paternalists would steer consumers in the direction of considering all relevant costs at the time of purchase, certainly by providing relevant information, and if a fuel economy mandate would help consumers on balance, they would be willing to consider it’

‘Means’ paternalists just want to give you information, according to Sunstein, and want public officials to have that information so that they can make the most well-informed decisions possible.  They want to nag you.  ‘Ends’ paternalists want to morally improve you to their own vaunted status, and want to control you.

So imagine yourself at home when the doorbell rings.  A couple of Jehovah’s witnesses are standing there, bright-eyed.  They’re not just telling you there’s ‘serious risk that you will get lost.‘  They’re telling you that you’re already lost, that you’ve always been lost, and that you were born lost.  Jesus is your GPS.  You tell them you’re not interested, and because you didn’t bite, they’ll eventually walk off to the next house.  You may breath a sigh of relief that we don’t have any specific religious test for office.

Proselytizers are often ‘ends’ people, and there’s that familiar realization during the course of a conversation that you are a means to some other end, however earnest and faithful its practitioners appear to be.

So, now you open your door, and there’s Cass Sunstein, telling you he’s a ‘means’ paternalist, appealing to you directly, as a consumer.  You need a GPS with the latest behavioral economics software.  The more information you have, the better your choices are likely to be.  There’s a whole new field of knowledge that can change your life.  Did you know that you often make bad decisions, and the same bad decisions again and again?  You may not even be aware of it, but you’re constantly being steered into bad decisions already.  Our brains may even be wired that way. No, it’s not false consciousness, but you really should become aware of just how unreasonable our decisions can be.

As he goes on talking, he does state that perhaps you’ll need a push from time to time, from a paternal figure, so as not to get lost.   He’s already spoken with your boss, the city fathers, and many politicians and bureaucrats.   The information is that important.

Now he may support, depending on the circumstances, legislation that would mandate the car lot to provide that information for you.  Perhaps you imagine this could even include something like the ‘Bureau Of Relevant Cost Information.’  He’s clearly a top-down kind of guy.

Sure, you’ll probably pick up those costs in slightly higher prices, but you might save that money in the long run by having made a better choice.

‘No one should deny that freedom of choice is a central part of a good life. Paternalism can be a serious mistake, especially if it eliminates that form of freedom and overrides people’s judgments about their own ends. Education, warnings, and other nudges usually have big advantages over mandates and bans, precisely because they allow people to go their own way. But legitimate concerns about illegitimate paternalism should not be allowed to prevent officials from seeking to identify the best ways to improve people’s lives, even if they end up influencing people’s choices.’

Well, maybe Sunstein isn’t so concerned about stopping by your house at all.  He goes to the people who ‘matter.’

I suspect my objection to Sunstein’s thinking is that there are already ‘ends’ within behavioral economics itself, namely the end of establishing laws that not only explain how your mind works, but presumably how all of our minds as we make certain kinds of choices.  Are these scientific laws?  No, probably not.

Are these laws universal, and thus true for everyone, everywhere, all the time?  No, probably not.

I find myself looking for a libertarian under all the layers of paternalism, rationalism, top-down control and so much faith in the latest products of reason.

If you have any thoughts and comments, or insights about those empirical claims, let me know.  Feel free to highlight my ignorance.

Related On This Site:  Sunstein’s got to create some space between the Bloomberg backlash and the totalitarians on the Left: Daddy’s Gonna Make You Do It

Kant is a major influence on libertarians, from Ayn Rand’s Objectivism to Robert Nozick’s ‘night-watchman’ state:  A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”…Link To An Ayn Rand Paper: The Objectivist Attack On KantRepost-Youtube Via Libertarianism.Org-David Friedman: ‘The Machinery Of Freedom’…Anarcho-capitalism:  Pro-market, anti-state, anti-war…paleo-libertarian: Link To Lew Rockwell Via A Reader

Anarcho-syndicalist, libertarian socialist and sometime blind supporter of lefty causes:  Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

New liberty away from Hobbes…toward Hayek…but can you see Locke from there?: Repost-From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’

Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism:  Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Catholic libertarianism: Youtube Via Reason TV-Judge Napolitano ‘Why Taxation is Theft, Abortion is Murder, & Government is Dangerous’

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”… From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.New liberty away from Hobbes?: From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’…Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal:  Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Sheldon Richman At Reason: ‘Classical Liberalism Vs. Modern Liberalism’

Leo Strauss argued there is great danger in this approach, i.e. the problems of Europe.  Political science, the social sciences, economics and the explanatory power of these products of reason and rationalism could increasingly form the epistemological foundation for explaining the world, people’s interior lives, how we ought to live and what we ought to do.  This includes where our rights come from and who should be in charge:  Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?