Nudging as a Matter of Politics

The discussion on nudging is usually framed as a discussion about autonomy vs. paternalism. This framework, however, is misguided as a basis for nudging as a regulatory approach. In almost all relevant cases in which nudging is discussed, we do not merely protect citizens from themselves. We are regarding individual behavior which has significant social impact. The welfare state has linked individual risky behavior to matters of social infrastructure and social justice.

Thus, nudging is about effective solutions for social problems and a parallel case to other regulatory approaches. It fits into the tradition of rational policy-making. It requires a political decision on whether or not nudging should be chosen as an instrument to remedy the social costs entailed with risky behavior. And from a legal point of view it has to be reviewed whether the measure chosen is not a disproportionate loss of freedom for the individual. This requires balancing the interests. As nudging is a matter of politics we have to discuss it in the political arena.

For any political deliberation, transparency is crucial. A call for transparency is already made by the initiators of the nudging discourse. However, their call for transparency is based on respecting the autonomy of the people who are nudged. From this angle, transparency is only needed as far as the interaction between government and the citizen is concerned. When focusing on the area of political deliberations, however, the issue of transparency concerns the legitimate goals and the design of nudging. It relates to the instrumental choice, the field of application, the specific concepts, mechanisms of evaluation etc. And decisions on all these questions require public accountability. Nudging addresses situations in which we do not behave rationally. Nonetheless, we can rationally discuss whether we would like to be nudged or not ...

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