Behavioral law and economics : The assault on consent, will, and dignity

In Christi Favor, Gerald F. Gaus & Julian Lamont (eds.), Essays on Philosophy, Politics & Economics: Integration & Common Research Projects. Stanford Economics and Finance (2010)
Authors
Mark D. White
College of Staten Island (CUNY)
Abstract
In "Behavioral Law and Economics: The Assault on Consent, Will, and Dignity," Mark D. White uses the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant to examine the intersection of economics, psychology, and law known as "behavioral law and economics." Scholars in this relatively new field claim that, because of various cognitive biases and failures, people often make choices that are not in their own interests. The policy implications of this are that public and private organizations, such as the state and employers, can and should design the presentation of options and default choices in order to "steer" people to the decision they would make, were they able to make choices in the absence of their cognitive biases and failures. Such policies are promoted under the name "libertarian paternalism," because choice is not blocked or co-opted, but simply "nudged." White argues that such manipulation of choice is impossible to conduct in people's true interests, and any other goal pursed by policymakers substitutes their own ends, however benevolent they may be, for people's true ends. Normatively, such manipulation should not be conducted because it fails to respect the dignity and autonomy of persons, what some hold to be the central idea in Kant's ethical system, and which serves to protect the individual from coercion, however subtle, from other persons or the state.
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