Jonathan B. Wight
A few weeks ago we had a lively debate here about libertarian paternalism. Cato Unbound has been carrying some articles back-and-forth between Thaler and Whitman on this same subject.
Whitman concludes his latest post by saying:
Some new paternalists, like Thaler, may support only the mildest of measures. But their analytical approach will, if generally adopted, set in motion slippery-slope processes that are largely independent of their intentions. So I would like to see Prof. Thaler and other new paternalists do more than repudiate specific policies; I would like to see them remedy the objectionable features of their intellectual framework.
Here’s the rub: Thaler’s intellectual framework requires judgment by citizens about how much government framing is a good idea. Libertarians would say paternalism is de facto always bad. Thaler and others (including myself) are willing to have some ambiguity and judgment on a case-by-case basis.
Adam Smith wrote soaring rhetoric about freedom, but his actual policies were nuanced and depended upon a number of contextual factors. Adam Smith was in favor of mild paternalism in certain circumstances, as discussed in previous posts.