In Search of Lost Nudges
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This paper discusses the validity of nudges to tackle time-inconsistent behaviours. I show that libertarian paternalism is grounded on a peculiar model of personal identity, and that the argument according to which nudges may improve one’s self-assessed well-being can be seriously questioned. I show that time inconsistencies do not necessarily reveal that the decision maker is irrational: they can also be the result of discounting over the degree of psychological connectedness between our successive selves rather than over time (Parfit 1984, Reasons and Persons, Oxford University Press). Time inconsistency can call for paternalism if and only if we accept that an individual is characterised by stable “true” preferences over time-dependent outcomes, and that she is rationally required to make time-consistent choices. This model is descriptively and normatively questionable. I then argue that behavioural findings may still justify paternalistic interventions, but on a non-welfarist basis.
KeywordsDiscount Factor True Preference Psychological Distance Future Utility Hyperbolic Discount
I am grateful to the editors and three anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions that substantially improved this paper. I also thank Robert Sugden for his careful rereading of the paper.
Conflict of Interest
I, Guilhem Lecouteux, declare that I have no conflict of interest.
I, Guilhem Lecouteux, declare that this manuscript is original, has not been published before and is not currently being considered for publication elsewhere. I can confirm that the manuscript has been read and approved by all named authors and that there are no other persons who satisfied the criteria for authorship but are not listed.
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