A “Nudge” in the Right Direction
George F. Will wrote an interesting article for Newsweek describing a philosophy two Obama advisers have espoused called “libertarian paternalism“.
Thaler and Sunstein correctly assume that people are busy, their lives are increasingly complicated and they have neither time nor inclination nor, often, the ability to think through even all important choices, from health care plans to retirement options. Therefore the framing of choices matters, particularly using the enormous power of the default option—the option that goes into effect if the chooser chooses not to make a choice.
Such is the power of inertia in human behavior, and the tendency of individuals to emulate others’ behavior, that there can be huge social consequences from the clever framing of the choices that nudgeable people—almost all of us—make. Choice architects understand that every choice is made in a context, and that contexts are not “neutral”—they inevitably encourage certain outcomes. Organizing the context can promote outcomes beneficial to choosers and, cumulatively, to society.
George Will uses the example of Obama’s plan of an “opt-out” policy for 401(k), as opposed to the current “opt-in” – that being given the default option of saving for retirement would actually improve participation in such plans meant to help individuals in their elderly years. You can also look at Obama’s approach to universal healthcare – he doesn’t mandate that you buy into his plan, but he does set everything up so you could get insurance if you wanted it (the lack of available insurance is a big part of the problem with this nation’s 45-million uninsured).
It’s an interesting way to look at how Obama’s liberalism is anything but unconventional, and could hold appeal among a certain set of libertarians and small-government conservatives.