Symposium: The Scope and Reach of the Regulatory State


, Volume 51, Issue 3, pp 268-273

First online:

Libertarian Paternalism: Leviathan in Sheep’s Clothing?

  • David R. HendersonAffiliated withNaval Postgraduate School, University Circle Email author 

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Contrary to the views of some libertarians, “libertarian paternalism” is not an oxymoron. But are its two most prominent advocates, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, really libertarian paternalists or are they paternalists in sheep’s clothing? Thaler seems to be somewhat of a libertarian paternalist whereas Sunstein appears to be more of a straight coercive paternalist. But even Thaler passes up major chances to advocate reducing straight paternalism by making it more libertarian. Those who favor freedom should not reject the concept of libertarian paternalism altogether. Instead they should apply the concept more consistently than Thaler and Sunstein have doneand use it to push for a less coercive government. Indeed, the fact that government officials who plan our lives also have human foibles argues for less government, not true.


libertarian paternalism Sunstein Thaler Hayek Social Security