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Old wine in new casks: libertarian paternalism still violates liberal principles


Libertarian Paternalism (LP) purports to be a kind of paternalism that is “liberty-preserving” and hence compatible with liberal principles. In this paper, I argue against this compatibility claim. I show that LP violates core liberal principles, first because it limits freedom, and secondly because it fails to justify these limitations in ways acceptable to liberal positions. In particular, Libertarian Paternalists argue that sometimes it is legitimate to limit people’s liberties if it improves their welfare. A closer look at the welfare notions used, however, reveals that they respect neither the subjectivity nor the plurality of people’s values. Thus its justification of the liberty-welfare trade-off is not compatible with liberal principles. I conclude that to justify LP policies, one must appeal to traditional paternalistic principles—and thus, there is no categorical difference between “libertarian” and other forms of paternalism.

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Correspondence to Till Grüne-Yanoff.

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Grüne-Yanoff, T. Old wine in new casks: libertarian paternalism still violates liberal principles. Soc Choice Welf 38, 635–645 (2012).

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  • Liberal Position
  • Hyperbolic Discount
  • Arbitrary Power
  • Liberal Principle
  • Libertarian Paternalism