Tom Palmer‘s book reviews are more than enough to explain why Cass Sunstein is an extraordinarily sloppy thinker, but bad ideas never die — and Sunstein’s bad ideas are plentiful. One of his pet theories, developed with Richard Thaler, is “libertarian paternalism,” which posits that central authorities can frame the choices available to people in society in such a way that “better” choices will more often be made — all without running afoul of libertarian objections to authoritarian compulsion.
Yesterday, I discovered that economists extraordinaire Mario Rizzo and Glen Whitman (check out this nice encomium to Rizzo by Peter Boettke) had thoroughly dismantled the idea that would-be paternalists have the ability to make better utility-maximizing decisions than the aggregate population they hope to influence, let alone cement this ability in a set of public policies that would implement the benefits of their omniscience in practice. Titled “The Knowledge Problem of New Paternalism,” one additional reason it caught my eye is because they published it in the law journal of my own alma mater.
(Last time I went poking around the archives of BYU’s scholarly journals, incidentally, I stumbled across this gem from 1976, which provides the interesting bit of trivia that Milton Friedman and Dallin H. Oaks had been friendly colleagues during their mutual time in Chicago.)
At any rate, Rizzo and Whitman give “libertarian paternalism” the full Hayekian analysis, concluding:
It’s an excellent piece, worthy of a full, careful read.
[Cross-posted at Shrubbloggers.]
Filed under: Economic Theory, Nanny State, Regulation
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