Think Freely Media presents Common Sense with Paul Jacob

Not long after I noted a new form of paternalism, David Brooks, from his perch as token conservative at The New York Times, devoted a column to the idea that governments should “nudge” people to act better, rather than force them.

He is enthusiastic. “[I]n practice, it is hard to feel that my decision-making powers have been weakened because when I got my driver’s license enrolling in organ donation was the default option.” He thinks the reality of “soft paternalism” is innocuous in terms of coercion, powerful in terms of consequences, like more donated organs.

Still, he sees the skeptical, anti-paternalist case: “Do we want government stepping in to protect us from our own mistakes? Many people argue no. This kind of soft paternalism will inevitably slide into a hard paternalism, with government elites manipulating us into doing the sorts of things they want us to do.”

But, he argues, this just hasn’t happened. There’s no evidence for this slippery slope.

Not so fast. Economist Donald Boudreaux can explain the lack of data: the reason we see so little move from soft (option-based) paternalism to hard (force-based) paternalism is that most paternalism starts out hard and gets tougher as it goes along: “One reason why the empirical record isn’t more full of nudges turning into diktats is that government typically issues diktats from the get-go.” Paternalists tend to forgo the suggestion for the compulsion.

And their current emphasis on nudging will likely change once their nudging gets them nowhere near their Nirvana. We know this not from direct evidence about soft paternalism, but about the history of government in general and the enduring popularity of paternalism in its hardest of forms.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

By: Redactor


  1. drrik says:

    Don’t make me do this.

  2. Lynn A. Bloxham says:

    to Drrik.. This looks like the accurate pattern.

  3. Jay says:

    Using the example of “gentle”–organ donations. What about people WHO DO NOT WANT TO, for religious or other reasons? Is this a ” gentle” nudge for them?

    or is it forced?

  4. MoreFreedom says:

    The reality is all government action involves the use of force, even advertisements nudging people to be healthier, simply because they take the money by force, to pay for the advertisements.

    Thus, there is no such thing a government nudging – it’s force.

    Second, should the government really be advising us to act certain ways? I say no. Government exists to protect our freedom, to be healthier or not as we choose(or more virtuous, or not), and how we think best.

    If we want to be healthier, we’ll figure out how, and do it. No government assistance needed. And no use of force needed either.

  5. Pat says:

    But now we have government telling us we have a ‘right’ to everything under the sun. We have a right to food, water and, now, health care. Never mind that all of these are provided by the labor of others. Government is fast becoming an enslaver.
    One of the founders (or was it Lincoln?) said, as a nation of free men, we will live forever or die by suicide. We appear to have chosen the latter option, since freedom is hard.

  6. MoreFreedom says:

    The problem with paternalism, is that it refuses to grant individuals freedom. That’s just what liberal statists want.

    I’d rather have conservatives that supported individual freedom, rather than starting with the premise that government may use force to stop your behaviors (regardless if anyone else is harmed) because it offends others (even if it offends a majority of voters).

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