Libertarian paternalism is still BS.

I read the Sunstein and Thaler paper on libertarian paternalism for Mario Rizzo’s ethics and economics class this past semester. I hated it. They describe libertarian peternalism where someone has the potential to make changes that (presumably) improve social welfare without inhibiting anyone’s liberty. The example they use is a cafeteria where people buy dessert rather than fruit or vice versa depending on the layout of the food. When dessert is put first in the line no one buys fruit. To curb the problems of over eating or eating unhealthy food, the owner of the cafeteria manipulates the food layout to get preferable food eating habits.


I admit that there doesn’t seem to be anything incompatible with liberty going on here. But that doesn’t make the cafeteria owner any less of a pompous jerk. Instead of libertarian paternalism where individuals are constantly on the lookout for individual’s making supposedly “bad choices,” I prefer Ostrom’s description of social entrepreneurship.
Kirzner’s description of general entrepreneurship is simple. Individuals seek profit opportunities of wealth and better ways to achieve ends. A restaurant owner who wants to perfect the way a recipe tastes is an entrepreneur but so is the restaurant owner who doesn’t give a hoot about flavor and only cares about making money. Ostrom’s social entrepreneur is seeking a systemic improvement at the social level, like less hunger, but acts and participates in markets in much the same way as the Kirznerian.
Where the libertarian paternalist looks at free choosing actors and says, ” you dummie you choose poorly.” The social entrepreneur says, despite your best choices, you still face problems in the world that need solutions. In other words, the libertarian paternalist might not violate anyone’s rights or liberty, but they’re still arrogant pricks compared to social entrepreneurs.

2 thoughts on “Libertarian paternalism is still BS.

  1. I think there are multiple answers depending on what you believe.
    The Religious Creationism Answer: Adam and Eve both had belly buttons because God can do anything and everything. God made man in his image and since every man has one then God must have one meaning that Adam must have one. Even though Adam did not have a human birth, God gave him one anyways.
    The Scientific Creationism Answer: Adam and Eve would not have belly buttons since they did not have a human birth. The theory that every man has a belly button and since God created man in his own image must mean that every man must have a belly button can be rebutted by looking at new borns who are born with defects. If new borns can be born without arms, then does God have no arms? The belly button is a scar that represents your human birth, but Adam and Eve had a devine birth and did not live in the womb hince forth they did not have belly buttons.
    The Scientific Answer: We evolved from monkeys, Adam and Eve are a farse.

  2. This seems a little odd. If the cafeteria owner wanted to get preferable eating habits then why offer dessert at all. Why offer hamburgers instead of soy burgers? It would only make sense in the eyes of the owner to put the fruit before the dessert if he were to gain from doing so. He might gain self satisfaction that he was creating a public service of allowing people to make healthier choices, but then why offer the dessert to begin with? If he was using the dessert to lure people in but then steering them towards the fruit it seems like a waste of resources to offer the dessert.

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