The Case Against Libertarian Paternalism

There is no practical, objective way for an outside observer to define another individual's best interest.

The Manipulation of Choice: Ethics and Libertarian Paternalism, by Mark D. White, Palgrave Macmillian, 150 pages, $19.98.

Selling a big gulp Dr. Pepper can land you in court, but a Diet Coke is just fine? That would have been the law of the Big Apple had Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s now kyboshed attempt to “nudge” New Yorkers away from sugary drinks been successful. Then Justice Milton Tingling struck down the initiative as arbitrary and capricious, and New Yorkers danced in Union Square to celebrate the right to drink what they want.

But there is more wrong with Nanny Bloomberg’s nudge than its restrictions on New Yorkers' freedom to hype up on two liters of Peach Snapple. In The Manipulation of Choice, a concise and straightforward manifesto for freeing individual choice from the public sector's influence, the College of Staten Island philosopher Mark D. White argues that there also practical reasons why these nudges towards “correct living” are poor public policy.

The moral certitude that even the most progressive New Yorkers felt about Bloomberg’s limits on the size and location of “unhealthy drinks” was palpable in the days before the law was set to take effect. But a similar ban on trans fats in 2007 was implemented to little real protest.  And tight restrictions on where you can smoke outside have become something New Yorkers have learned to live with. The lack of moral concern for these other paternalistic laws is why White argues the critique of nudges and so-called "libertarian paternalism" needs to be more robust.

The idea of libertarian paternalism was popularized five years ago by the legal theorist Cass Sunstein and the behavioral economist Richard Thaler, in their bestselling book Nudge. Sunstein and Thaler argue that policymakers can preserve an individual’s liberty while still nudging him towards choices that are supposedly in his best interests. A classic example is having employees automatically enrolled in a 401(k) retirement account, rather than asking employees to opt in to such a program. The nudge doesn’t stop employees from opting out, and it encourages people to invest in their future, which Sunsteing and Thaler think is in their best interests.

To this, White replies that there is no practical, objective way for an outside observer—even a super-rational economist—to define another individual's best interest. And that undermines the very premise of libertarian paternalism.

Sunstein and Thaler would say anyone who does not see the benefits of saving for retirement is suffering from a cognitive failure. Similarly, the Bloomberg attempt to limit the size and location of unhealthy drinks was predicated on the idea that sugary beverages are bad for us and that people who want to drink them aren’t making wise choices.

But in order to make these claims there has to be a baseline, objective standard for determining good and bad behavior. And people's preferences are too varied to nail down such a standard.

Some people want to retire on a beach in Tahiti and live off their retirement account, so good behavior for them is saving a large percentage each month. But what if the best form of retirement planning is taking cash and sticking it under the mattress while the suckers lose all their 401(k) value in a stock market crash? Or what if an individual would prefer to use part of their income every year to travel abroad and enjoy a more robust life now, rather than have the money when they are old and decrepit? Depending on your preferences and risk appetite, the definition of behavior in accordance with your best interests will vary dramatically.

White believes our behavior is also guided by hard-to-quantify principles, defined as “elements in decision-making that are not easily traded off against preferences and are not as responsive to opportunity cost as preferences.” This argument is weaker, since principles are just strongly held preferences and are not necessarily impossible to quantify. It would be enough to say that economists simply don’t have enough information about the preferences of individuals to decide what is in their best interests. As the economist F.A. Hayek observed, knowledge is so dispersed throughout society that no singular policymaker or advocacy group can collect enough information to fully understand how people would define their own preferences and principles.

Practically speaking, therefore, nudges can’t do what they are intended for—to design a system to help individuals overcome cognitive biases make choices in their best interests—because economists and policymakers can’t understand the full range of motives that determine “best interest” when picking a retirement planning strategy to consuming a sugary beverage. Instead of helping people overcome cognitive weaknesses, policy makers are just nudging people towards the interests that policy makers prefer. "Libertarian" or not, paternalism is paternalism.

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  • ||

    libertarian paternalism?

  • Live Free or Diet||

    Yeah, I was wondering about that.

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  • Smilin' Joe Fission||

    Sort of an oxymoron I would say.

  • RightNut||

    Pretty much.

  • ||

    Isn't "Oxymoron" pimple cream for retarded people?

  • KPres||

    They think that by altering your available choices, they're not infringing on your freedom to choose, thus the "libertarian" qualifier.

    It's some pretty fucking Orwellian bullshit.

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  • Luke Sacher||

    Yes- why "paternalism" and not "fraternalism"? Not that "fraternalism" is much better... http://www.freerepublic.com/fo.....8974/posts

  • Sevo||

    "Libertarian Paternalism"
    What?
    Is this like 'Downish Up'?

  • Sevo||

    Well, great minds... (or something)

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  • Blueman||

    Save it for the filibuster.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Huh. Bloomberg just reported Max Baucus will not run for re-election.

    I wonder what sort of revolting imbecile the Republicans will conjure up to act as a human sacrifice at the hand of Brian Schweitzer.

    The funny part was the Bloombergians talking about what a hard core "red state' Montana is.

  • John||

    Come on Brooks. The next Dem is going to be different. He won't vote to keep Obamacare or for socialism. He promises. he is just like you. He understands and cares unlike those icky Republicans. Bachus made a few mistakes but the next guy won't do that.

  • ||

    Huh. I am stymied. Why is he sounding so conservative lately then?

  • ||

    And Montana is a hardcore "Red" state. The Republican Party here is just slightly less inept than the Republican Party in California. Don't believe me? 2008. Bob. Fucking . Kelleher.

  • John Galt||

    State government wise we are a red state.

  • ||

    How many Montanans are commenters here, I wonder?

  • Live Free or Diet||

    One more problem with the diet drink versus sugary drink dichotomy is that if the goal is weight loss, the diet drink is not a particularly effective alternative.
    Just like tasting fake sweeteners can trigger saliva, it also triggers insulin. Insulin clears glucose from the blood stream and stores it in the fat.

  • John||

    There are two sides to the Libertarian argument. One half is that it is wrong in principle for the government to force people to do things. That is the argument that usually gets most of the attention. But there is another half to the ideology. The other half is the idea that the government can never have the proper information to properly manage the behavior of millions of people in society.

    Libertarian paternalism is an oxymoron because it is totally at odds with the second argument. Okay fine, you are not forcing anyone to do anything. But you are still assuming that top men can properly deduce what the "right things" people ought to be doing are.

  • RightNut||

    Its still forcing people to do something. The threat of force is just made more implicit.

  • John||

    And even if it is not, it is assuming that the government is capable of figuring out what the right "something" is, which is completely antithetical to Libertarian thinking.

  • Sevo||

    John| 4.23.13 @ 10:52AM |#
    ...'which is completely *irrelevant* to Libertarian thinking.'

    Fixed

  • John||

    It is antithetical. The whole point of empowering the individual is the assumption that the individual knows best what is good for himself not top men.

  • Sevo||

    John| 4.23.13 @ 11:01AM |#
    "It is antithetical. The whole point of empowering the individual is the assumption that the individual knows best what is good for himself not top men."

    Wherein John admits he's an idiot.
    No, it doesn't matter who knows what is 'good for' an individual. The individual is welcome to do what the individual pleases regardless of what is 'good for' that individual.
    It is irrelevant.

  • John||

    No. You are a pedantic idiot who completely missed the point. If it pleases the person doing it, it is then by definition "good for the individual". The individual not you or me or the government is the judge of what is good for them. And if it pleases them, then that is what is best.

    It certainly matters what is "good for the individual" to the individual. And they are the judge of that. That is the whole point.

  • Cervantes||

    John, please explain how anything you said makes logical sense; "If it pleases the person doing it, it is then by definition good for the individual."

    Whether or not its good for the individual should be irrelevant, as an individual it is up to you to decide whether or not to do something and deal with the consequences of said decision. I'll smoke my cigarettes if I want to and If I suffer a health problem because of it so be it.

  • Sevo||

    "It certainly matters what is "good for the individual" to the individual"

    So long as we accept that any idiot can make up any definition for any word that idiot chooses, you are 100% correct. And an idiot.

  • Cervantes||

    100% yes

  • wwhorton||

    Ah, I see the problem. Playing a bit fast and loose with words and meanings here.

    Both "right" and "good" are subjective, and complicated by the several different shades of meaning each can have. "Good" can mean, for example, beneficial, or it can mean desired. "Right" can mean just, or it can mean appropriate, or it can mean correct.

    I think the way to phrase this best is that Libertarians believe that no one is as capable of making decisions that are subjectively desirable to a person as the person him- or herself. In other words, I might or might not be a good judge of what I should do for a living, but even if someone else is a better judge of what I might be suited for, or believes they know best what I would enjoy, the likelihood is that, as a rule, no other person would know my own mind better than I would. In no small part this is due to the fact that I am influenced by a nearly infinite number and variety of factors which might make seemingly obvious choices less desirable to me.

    So, maybe I would have made an excellent lumberjack, but I don't want to do that for a living, so I'm not. Or, maybe I think someone else would really enjoy being a portraitist, but they have no intention of doing so because they want to pursue a more secure career, despite not enjoying it as much.

  • Rasilio||

    No it is not necessarily forcing anyone to do anything.

    Take the 401k example provided in the article. Currently they are set up as an opt in. If you do nothing nothing is added into your retirement account. The idea behind libertarian paternalism is that if you made it an opt out system, that the company automatically sets up your 401k with say 4% of your salary being put into it by default but leave you completely free to opt out that you have been deprived of no rights and would recieve a subtle push towards the "correct" outcome.

    The first part of their assumption is correct, you would not have been deprived of any rights because you would not have been required to do anything. The second part however is only half true. There would be a subtle push that would lead to more people choosing the desired course of action however it is absolutely and categorically impossible to define whether the course of action was the correct one.

    Unless that is one defines "correct" as being that which is best for society at large and not that which is best for the individual in question.

    So while the paternalism is not based on any individual good but rather a collective good the fact that there is no force or fraud involved does mean it can properly be called "libertatrian"

  • John||

    The whole thing is assuming that we know beyond any doubt that people having 401Ks is a societal good. I take issue with that whole idea. How do you know that having a 401K and saving for retirement is a good thing? You don't know the second order effects of that. You just think you do. What you are doing is assuming what is right for you is automatically right on the macro scale. And that idea was demolished by Hayak. We do not and can never know the "good" on the macro scale. So it doesn't matter that you are not forcing people to do things. By encouraging them to do things that top men think are right, you are running the risk of doing more harm than good. The Hayakian arguments against a managed economy are just as true of an effective no coercive paternalist scheme as they are of a coercive regulatory scheme. The point of the incentives is to get people do do things just like that is the point of regulations.

    So while the paternalism is not based on any individual good but rather a collective good

    The idea that there exists some knowable collective good that trumps individual good is completely antithetical to Libertarian ideology.

  • Rasilio||

    "The idea that there exists some knowable collective good that trumps individual good is completely antithetical to Libertarian ideology."

    No, libertarian ideology can be pretty much summed by by No Force, No Fraud. As long as neither of those two are used it can be called libertarian

  • John||

    But if there is a knowable collective good, what is the basis for objecting to the force? The force is wrong because it never and can't accomplish what it intends to accomplish. If you admit that sometimes the government knows the right and best thing to do, you have given away the argument.

  • Rasilio||

    "But if there is a knowable collective good, what is the basis for objecting to the force? "

    Because I as an individual am not a tool to be used in the service of the collective good. I own myself and am free to determine which goods I shall pursue and if the collective good is not on that list then that is just too damn bad for everyone else.

    Any system in which I am free to do this without interference, and requiring me to opt out of something rather than opt in to it does not count as interference, qualifies as a libertarian system.

  • John||

    Because I as an individual am not a tool to be used in the service of the collective good. I own myself and am free to determine which goods I

    If that is true, and it is, how can you then possibly claim that the government can ever know the collective good? If it can't know it for you as an individual is certainly can't know it in the aggregate.

    If you admit there is some kind of collective good, then you also have to admit that you might not know what is best for yourself and the whole argument falls. You have to have both points.

  • elfprince13||

    But if there is a knowable collective good, what is the basis for objecting to the force? The force is wrong because it never and can't accomplish what it intends to accomplish. If you admit that sometimes the government knows the right and best thing to do, you have given away the argument.

    No. Libertarian ethics are deontological, not utilitarian.

  • Sevo||

    John| 4.23.13 @ 11:39AM |#
    "But if there is a knowable collective good, what is the basis for objecting to the force?"

    John, lay off those idiot pills, regardless of whether your doctor says 'they're good for you'.

  • KPres||

    Bah! It's the same old bullshit it's been for the past 100 years. Since most of our interactions happen through some established business, they regulate the business and then everyday people don't notice the imposition and so don't give a shit. And since business owners are a minority, and this is a democracy, they get ignored.

    Tell me, why can't a business decide for itself whether your 401K is an opt-in or an opt-out?

  • ||

    I disagree. You assume that there is a "best" for most or all and you know it. I believe the libertarian default should be to assume that people are making decisions from somewhere other than laziness and ignorance and thus everything should be "opt-in". Letting people be wrong. Maybe they don't ever plan on retiring and want the money now. Maybe they don't want to be limited to your 401(k) choices. Maybe its none of my goddamned business what they do with the compensation I give them.

  • Rasilio||

    You misunderstand.

    I did not say that I agreed with Sunstien and Thaler. I think they are wrong, that said being wrong does not necessarily mean that they system could not be "libertarian", I mean just look at the bulk of the nutjobs over on Infowars, clearly wrong about most everything but still generally speaking libertarian.

    You are right that it is just as impossible to define "best" for everybody as it is to define "best" for a single individual. However it is not so hard to define best for reaching a particular predetermined outcome. Whether that outcome is in fact "best" for any or even everyone is purely subject to personal intrepretation.

    So as I said, their analysis is flawed and wrong but because there is no force or fraud involved can still properly be called libertarian

  • KPres||

    "I think they are wrong, that said being wrong does not necessarily mean that they system could not be "libertarian"

    Really? How do you establish the "defaults" without force? One example is all I need.

  • Rasilio||

    Peer pressure, advocacy, public messaging.

    "Hey Mr. corporation, we know that you offer a 401k plan as part of your benefits, we have an idea to suggest. More of your employees will invest in the plan if you make it opt out instead of opt in and we think you'd agree with us that having more of your employees saving for their retirement is a good idea so what do you say, you want to join us and encourage savings by making it opt out?"

    That said you want the perfect real world examples of "libertarian paternalism"?

    Smoking and drunk driving. Sure there have been regulatory pushes against both for years with ever greater criminal sanctions on drunk driving and ever higher taxes and greater restrictions on where you can smoke cigarettes but the real change driving plummeting rates of smoking and drunk driving were the public information campaigns (some run by the government, others by private charities) that made both activities really socially uncool.

    It used to be drunk driving was a joke and smoking was considered cool. Today people will literally refuse to associate with you if they find out that you do either.

    That said regardless of what you think about the desirability of smoking or drunk driving it was some group of self appointed moralists deciding that they were wrong and people shouldn't do them pushing a public campaign that changed public opinion such that neither was socially acceptable any longer but did not force anyone to stop doing either.

  • Sevo||

    "but the real change driving plummeting rates of smoking and drunk driving were the public information campaigns (some run by the government, others by private charities) that made both activities really socially uncool."

    Absolutely correct.
    Someone around here wrote a book about 'Independents' as I recall.
    One of the best points in the entire book is that government is a trailing indicator.

  • ||

    IOW, "Nice business you got here. Be a shame if something happened to it..."

    Who knew, the mafia has been using "libertarian" techniques to helpfully "nudge" folks into the right course of action for decades!

    Nice bit of sleight of hand there too conflating private information campaigns against infringing on the rights of others by potentially killing them with government regulation of private industry, limiting choices in order to manipulate individual behavior. If you're comfortable calling that "libertarian", I'm uncomfortable being called libertarian. You can call it a steaming pile of donkey shit with my full approval, however.

  • Muzzle of Bees||

    There may in fact be force in this scenario.

    If the business is required by the state to install and opt-out 401(k) retirement plan for their employees, then that would seem to signal that there would be a penalty if they did not comply.

    The default payroll scheme may be altered according to individual choice, so as such it does not seem to be at odds with a general libertarian philosophy, per se.

    But when the government threatens force to maintain the scheme and confers penalties if a business does not, then the scenario hurriedly leaves the realm of what is acceptable for a libertarian.

  • ||

    "the fact that there is no force or fraud involved does mean it can properly be called 'libertatrian'."

    In your 401k example, the threat of force exists if an employer doesn't want to participate in this automatic enrollment scheme of yours.

  • ||

    Or, more simply: "If you aren't free to be wrong, you aren't really free."

  • sarcasmic||

    You don't understand. Stopping the government from forcing people to do things requires using force against the government people who currently force people to do things. A libertarian society can only be brought about by forcing it upon those who currently force people do do things. Thus libertarianism is all about using force. In fact, libertarianism is tyranny.

    /Tony

  • Sevo||

    You better watch it! I'm gonna let you do things if you're not careful!

  • Frank_Carbonni||

    I believe both. Socialism is both wrong and run by incompetents.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    It's "Libertarian Paternalism" because it involves money?

    WTF? This whole mess is unreadable. Try again.

  • Rasilio||

    It is "libertarian" because in the system described no one is forced to do anything by anyone.

    It is "paternalism" because it still involved "top men" deciding what is right and wrong for you.

    Think of it like being on a golf course. You have a hole which has a dog leg 300 yards down range with the green being another 120 yards from that point. Between the Tee and the green on a straight line is a stand of trees.

    Now with this hole the green is only 350 yards from the tee so the golfer has a choice, he can play the hole the way it is designed, hit a 3 wood down the fairway and then go for the green on the second shot, or he can go his own way and try to drive for the green directly over the trees, a much harder shot.

    So in a sense the design of the hole could be described as a form of libertarian paternalism, the default design of it encourages players to play a certain way but leaves them free to take any shot they wanted. A traditional paternalistic system would simply rule that any shot which went over the trees was out of bounds and imposed a penalty.

  • John||

    It is "paternalism" because it still involved "top men" deciding what is right and wrong for you.

    Which makes it by definition not libertarianism. There is more to it than just "no force". Those top man should be able to force you because you not them are the best judge for what is right for you.

  • Rasilio||

    And if they are not forcing you then there is no problem right?

    If we assume that 401K's exist there are 4 possible mechanism's for their use.

    The can be mandatory, everyone must have one.

    They can be opt in, you have to take action to get one

    They can be opt out, you get one unless you take action

    They can be restricted and only certain people who meet some criteria can have them.

    The first and last options involved force, you are either required to have one or in some cases at least prevented from acquiring one. The middle 2 cases however there is no force involved, a product exists on the market to assist with retirement savings and most companies offer it as a benefit to their employees, however whether you have one is purely a choice of the individual, there is just a difference in how the choice is made (opt in or opt out)

  • John||

    And if they are not forcing you then there is no problem right?

    No. There is an enormous fucking problem. They are making things which do not appeal to me appealing by penalizing me for the choices I want to make.

    The problem is those people don't know and can't know what they are doing. Therefore, they cannot ever be given the power to create incentives to produce their desired goals. Their desired goals are just as or more likely to do harm.

    Once you admit that top men really do know what is best for people, forget it, you have lost the argument. Who doesn't want paradise? Who doesn't want the world to be better? When you admit that someone else can know what is best for you, then what possible justification do you have for for refusing to give that someone power over your life other than selfishness or foolish principle? None really. You don't give people power over your life because they by definition can never know better than you what is best for you. And if they can't by definition know what is best for you, they have no business setting up rube goldberg incentive schemes to get the proles to do what they think is best for them, end of story.

  • Rasilio||

    "No. There is an enormous fucking problem. They are making things which do not appeal to me appealing by penalizing me for the choices I want to make."

    So you are saying that you hate companies when they offer a product at a reduced price as an incentive to get you to buy it? You hate women who dress nice and wear well done makeup to make themselves more attractive to you?

    It should be noted here that libertarian paternalism could exist in a completely anarchic society, you could have a group of people who have decided that a particular action is good for everyone and lobbies everyone else to adopt policies leading towards that action. As long as that group is deciding what is best for everyone else and advocating changes in action guide most people into doing what they think is right and are not using force or fraud to accomplish it then it is libertarian paternalism.

  • $park¥||

    Rasilio, John hates Utopians. He's come right out and said it. Therefore, keep in mind that everything he says about individual freedoms he doesn't believe will ever happen. They can't happen because people suck. And he hates anyone who even thinks things like that are truly possible. And if he doesn't admit that here, just consider him another dishonest hack who doesn't really know what he actually believes.

  • ||

    you could have a group of people who have decided that a particular action is good for everyone and lobbies everyone else to adopt policies leading towards that action.

    That isn't remotely what was suggested in the original piece. Starting from square one, 401(k) plans aren't really libertarian, since they exist not in an open market, but within the tight confines of an oppressive tax structure that makes them more attractive as long-term investment vehicles due to arbitrary tax advantages imposed by the government. That's where we start: with force. Then the recommended policy was to REQUIRE opt-out instead of opt-in 401(k) contributions. Not friendly suggestions from the Concerned Women of the World, Incorporated. Requirements from the government. The choice of each business being obliterated by a fixed policy, from which the individual is free to escape only if he takes evasive action. That's definitely paternalism, but it isn't any brand of "libertarian" that I'd like to be a part of.

    In your ancap Utopia this wouldn't be a question since 401(k) plans as a tax entity wouldn't exist, and companies would be free to CHOOSE to offer any sort of retirement contribution plan for their employees that they wish. Note they would be free to CHOOSE to offer. Not REQUIRED to offer.

  • Luke Sacher||

    Precisely. They're calling it "Paternalism", not "Fraternalism". Which implies superiority.

  • Luke Sacher||

    By what objective standard are the "top men" qualified as such? Hmmm...

  • Jordan||

    It is "libertarian" because in the system described no one is forced to do anything by anyone.

    The soda tax is not voluntary.

  • Rasilio||

    Then in that case it would not be libertarian paternalism because there is force involved.

    I know that sounds like a "No true scotsman" argument, however it is not, it is more a reflection of words having meanings.

    It is possible for something called libertarian paternalism to exist however the instant you initiate force into the equation the libertarian qualifier disappears and it becomes straight up paternalism

  • ||

    it is more a reflection of words having meanings.

    Indeed. The word "force" having lost all meaning in your convoluted clusterfuck of an argument.

  • I Dug It||

    Cass Sunstein(TM). Explaining how to tax our way to freedom since 1979.

  • John||

    http://thehill.com/blogs/ballo.....rom-senate

    Another scumbag deprives the people of the deserved pleasure of kicking his sorry ass out of office. Bachus retires to a cush K street life and some "stunt Democrat" swears that he would never pass something like Obamacare. And the idiot voters believe him.

  • ||

    Paternalism is not ethical, as it does not respect the choices of the individual. Full stop, we're done. Fuck you, "libertarian paternalists", please go fuck yourselves with a chainsaw.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    ... and here, let me get it running for you ...

  • ||

    "Fuck me gently with a chain saw."

    Heathers still has some of the best bitch dialog ever.

  • ||

    Brett, why are you pulling my dick?

  • ||

    Did you eat a brain tumor for breakfast, Epi?

  • Rasilio||

    But do you love your dead gay son?

  • ||

    Eskimo!

  • John||

    But they know better than you Episiarch. They care about you. They mean well. Don't you understand that?

  • Bam!||

    Whenever I see Bloomberg, I say to myself, I really hate that man.

  • ||

  • Tommy_Grand||

    I disagree with Randazzo's characterization of why the nudgers are nudging us. He says "nudges can’t do what they are intended for—to design a system to help individuals overcome cognitive biases make choices in their best interests."

    I agree that the nudgers can't accomplish said objective, but I am pretty sure that's not their objective. Nudgers want citizens to do what the nudgers think best for the collective. The want folks to be skinny b/c they believe weight loss will lower the collective's medium-term health care costs. They want employees to put money into a retirement account so the collective will not need to support these folks if/when they are old and broke and eating cat food. Randazzo and White are correct that, b/c people's preferencez and principles differ, and b/c the future is difficult to predict, nudgers cannot know w/ accuracy which choices are best. But Randazzo is wrong to assume nudgers give a whit about helping individuals maximize utility by making good choices. The rationale behind forcing cyclists wear helmets is to lower health care costs paid by the collective, and nothing else, excepting only the autocrats' innate love of control.

  • John||

    ^^THIS^^

    You said it better than I did.

  • $park¥||

    It's funny to see libertarians talk like anarchists when someone calls them paternalists.

  • Killazontherun||

    Well, yeah, but there are occasions when an anarchist like myself will talk like a minarchist when anarchy is not even in the realm of possibilaty at the time and adhering to the ideal would delay a more just remedy. I recognize no right of the majority to use the power of the government to define preferred domestic partnerships prior to the indiduals deciding to their own mutual benefit, but if it decides to treat those partnerships as being equal befor the law that is more just outcome though still an abuse of authority.

  • KPres||

    Funny, I'm a minarchist that wholly and completely accepts the anarchists moral framework, I just prefer the lesser of two evils sometimes.

    So state-run police is acceptable because a state-run police force results in less coercion than thugs running free. The necessary clause in the "necessary evil" doesn't make the evil any less evil. See how that works?

  • $park¥||

    Funny, you take a bunch of these libertarians making anarchist noises and put them in a thread about anarchy and watch them fall all over themselves saying how stupid and unworkable anarchy is. Then you put them in a thread about paternalism and watch them turn into anarchists. See how that works?

  • ||

    Right, because not wanting government to mandate a narrow range of choices from which individuals are "free" to pick is the same as disavowing a minarchist state having a monopoly on force.

    Maybe if you actually understood what libertarianism, or even anarchy, actually were, this wouldn't be quite so confusing to you.

  • Killazontherun||

    You've only created an alternative system for those with a propensity for violence to apply their craft. I doubt if you can prove it to be a cheaper alternative than crime management through purely private means.

  • GregMax||

    A libertarian is walking down a dirt street in old Samarkand and sees a horde of Mongols charging toward him on horseback.

    "It is wrong in principle for the government to force people to do things," he yells in excellent Mongol.

    They get closer.

    "Government can never have the proper information to properly manage the behavior of millions of people in society!" he yells in one last ditch effort.

    The Mongols pick him up on their way past and take him out into a field and ass-fuck him until he cries like a little bitch.

    Today's Republican and Democratic parties see Libertarians as the fool in Samarkand - ethical, philosophical, probably correct . . . but power is always the final determinant.

    Bend over ladies!

  • BakedPenguin||

    DERP. HERP DERP!

  • ||

    Translation: you are an unethical scumbag. Thanks for letting us know, scumbag.

  • John||

    When the Mongols show up again call me. Meanwhile shut the fuck up and give me my big gulp.

  • GregMax||

    Come on you guys, develop a sense of humor.
    Look, the philosophy is valuable but ultimately government and society are an exercise in power. The only power libertarianism offers is conscience and maybe 10% of voters.

  • John||

    You are right in that our freedoms don't really matter much when someone shows up to burn the place down.

  • Almanian!||

    Come on you guys, develop a sense of humor.

    Fuck off, slaver! You're not the boss of me! I'll develop a sense of humor if and when I damned well please.

    /overexuberant

  • Killazontherun||

    Libertarianism does not equal pacifism. You are mistaking us for unarmed progtards. The Mongols will have have to take my anal virginity away from my cold, dead asshole.

  • Cervantes||

  • robc||

    The only power libertarianism offers is conscience

    Its the only power I need.

  • GregMax||

    Oh, the Mongols are here, they work in DC.

  • Tommy_Grand||

    said Stalin

  • GregMax||

    said Bush,
    said Bloomberg
    said Obama

  • Almanian!||

    Fucking Mongorians!

  • sarcasmic||

    "Hahahaha! My masterpiece! When those Mongolians come next time, I pour this sweet and sour pork on their heads. Haha, sweet and sour pork so hot and sticky, Mongolians'll stick ahright up to the wall! And scream "UhwOoOoOoOoo!" Oh I can't wait. Oh, I get it. A Trojan Mongolian horse. Mongolians a-hiding inside thinking that I'll bring it in city wall, then Mongolians pop out and destroy wall from the inside out without gettin' any sweet and sour pork on their heads! Okay. I'll pray around. Oh! Oh rook! Rook, my very own Mongorian Trojan horse! Gee, what a surprise! I guess Mongorians aren't such crappy, smelly people after all! Yeah. Great! Rwow! Yeah, what a great present! I'm just gonna push it inside the gate and soon tell all my friends. Oh, it's sweet and sour pork! Oh! I'm going to get you Nogodians, if it's the last thing I do!"

  • Killazontherun||

    'Bend over', he says while going to town on LEO cock and throwing his kids college fund into their faces while paying for the priveledge of servicing them. Projecting his own cowardice on to his enemies. Pretty pathetic.

  • Rasilio||

    Uh, your typical libertarian would look on a horde of men on horseback with weapons drawn charging him as an initiation of force at which point he'd unsling his assault rifle and pick off as many of the bastards as he could.

    They might still get the end result they desired but they are gonna pay a cost for it.

  • wwhorton||

    Would these be the same Libertarians who believe that the 2nd Amendment is still just a smidge too restrictive when it comes to providing for one's own defense?

    I'd think the more accurate analogy would be, "A Libertarian was about to go to Samarkand, then read that, apparently, Mongol authorities frequently kidnap and sexually assault tourists, so he stayed home and brewed beer in his basement instead."

  • wwhorton||

    ...or allegory, rather...

  • ||

    Replace "brewing beer" with "smoking pot". Everybody knows libertarians only care about smoking pot.

  • Tommy_Grand||

    Your example underestimates the Mongols. Let's say a pack of rabid dogs is approaching. Yes, I agree, only a fool makes nuanced philosophical arguments to crazed animals.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    And Montana is a hardcore "Red" state.

    I don't know what part of the state you're in, but (sampling error alert!) I hear a seemingly endless stream of anti-business, anti-private-property, anti-freedom blathering idiots. They love Obama, and bitch incessantly about the dreaded Tea Party Republicans in Helena who do crazy stuff that the cool states laugh at. And they all think the First Amendment shouldn't apply in Montana, because otherwise the Copper Kings will take over and enslave us all.

    And the Republicans put that fucking useless moron Rehberg up against Tester.

  • GregMax||

    You must be in Missoula.

  • ||

    What? So you're going to take the advice of some old, White guy?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    No, the other statist university town.

  • elfprince13||

    Libertarian paternalism is ethically sound: it doesn't violate the non-aggression principle. The case against it as a utilitarian one ("pretense of knowledge" and all that), but ultimately it is fairly harmless. Societal convention will always provide default settings that nudge lazy people in a particular direction. If you believe that that default is meaningless, because people who care will choose to do otherwise, then why should it matter if that default changes? On the other hand, if you think you can help people by encouraging them to behave differently, without coercing them to do so, then as far as I'm concerned, you should go for it.

  • robc||

    Libertarianism paternalism, in the examples Im aware of, violate the NAP. Even the 401-k example, the "default" option should be left up to the employer. Including making it mandatory.

  • elfprince13||

    I would argue that those are cases where the libertarian label has been applied inappropriately.

    The 401k example is paternalistic regardless of whether the employer or the state is setting that default. But if the state is enforcing it, it has overstepped the bounds of the libertarian labeling.

    An increasing number of environmental advocacy organizations seem to be realizing that the power of the state is a clumsy and two-edged weapon, and falling back to encouraging businesses to change their ways "for the good of the customer/environment".

  • ||

    encouraging businesses to change their ways "for the good of the customer/environment".

    Not having your housing development torched by ELF nutcases or dragged into a 45 year lawsuit requiring a 400-man team of $1,000/hr lawyers probably serves as a stronger incentive than saving the planet, and that's an angle that environmentalists have become adept at playing. Particularly given the legal and regulatory structure in which they operate.

  • aliciasable||

    Hudson. although Marvin`s article is impossible, last friday I got a new Ford after having earned $6200 this last 4 weeks and-also, $10k this past-month. it's certainly the easiest job Ive ever had. I started this 8-months ago and straight away brought home more than $73 per/hr. I use this website,, http://www.app70.com

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    The article didn't make it very clear because it was talking about an actual law and force and all that, but I believe libertarian paternalism(productivism?) would be like the japanese companies who require their employees to work out and stay fit to increase productivty and reduce cost. (idk if that is purely the companies or the gov as well over there, but just assume for the example it is purely company policy).

  • ZackTheHypochondriac||

    meant to be a reply to robc off elf's comment.

  • elfprince13||

    Hadn't heard of that. Interesting (possible) example.

  • Sam Grove||

    Bloomberg IS the argument against paternalism.

  • maureen_aba||

    If we want to get serious about reducing or preventing obesity, we need to start with education – not laws and regulation. Obesity is complex and is influenced by a number of factors (such as age, genetics, stress, physical inactivity, etc.). To assign blame to one source of calories is not only incorrect and not based in science, but it’s counterproductive. Every person is different, and the risk factors that affect one person might be different from their neighbor’s. A cookie-cutter approach, like the one proposed in NYC, prevents people from making their own individual decisions.

  • hannah42||

    Lauren. even though Nathan`s article is exceptional, on friday I bought a brand new Buick since getting a check for $7221 this - four weeks past and would you believe, ten-k last-month. this is really the most-comfortable job I've had. I started this five months/ago and practically straight away started making more than $86, p/h. I use this website,, http://www.wow92.com

  • Tibor Machan||

    The skeptical argument against libertarian paternalism will not wash. We know often enough when people are vicious or conduct themselves immorally. (Suppose I try to distort this author's position! Pretty bad, no?)
    The big problem with so called libertarian paternalism is that it forgets about the role of free choice in morality. Once it is taken away, morality is gone. As Rand so aptly put it (ironically, following Kantian teaching here!) "at the point of a gun, morality ends" (and I will add, even if the gun is very tiny). Coercion of any kind undermines ethics because it undermines free choice, where moral agency enters the picture. So even if I know well and good that your drinking huge amounts of sugary sodas is irresponsible, forcing you to desist is wrong. I should convince you, which is the hallmark of civilized conduct. Even the most subtle paternalism violates elementary aspects of morality!

  • Luke Sacher||

    Dr. Machan- right as rain, as always, sir. :)

  • An0nB0t||

    America was born from resistance to tyranny, and our skepticism of authority is a healthy tradition. But we’re pretty free.

    Stopped reading there. Can you imagine being this blithely, shamelessly stupid on other moral issues?

    Why oppose child rape? There's less of it than there used to be.
    Why oppose the drug war? It's not as bad as prohibition was.
    Why object to the genocide in Darfur? It's not as bad as the Holocaust.

    The difference being, of course, that these people don't see individual freedom as a moral issue. It's just, I don't know, a thing. Slaves trade freedom for the security of their owner's protection, and that's just fine with miscreants like this.

  • rxc||

    This philosophy is just a restatement of the communist principle of "false consciousness", whereby the proletariat needs the guidance of the "smart people", becaust they don't really understand what is good for them, in terms of a political/economic system.

  • erikemiller@me.com||

    I'll worry about my own interests. Who are these people? God almighty just leave us alone!

  • MisterDamage||

    "Sunstein and Thaler would say anyone who does not see the benefits of saving for retirement is suffering from a cognitive failure"

    Anyone who doesn't see the benefits of opting out of retirement savings for people whose life expectancy does not exceed retirement age (for example, blue collar workers, who the elites so love to get all paternal over) is suffering from a cognitive failure.

  • Luke Sacher||

    Cass Sunstein is a repulsive political parasite. The unmitigated gaul of him to propose the absurd oxymoronic philosophy of "Libertarian Paternalism"... go sit on a pointed broomstick, combover man.

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