Paternalism with hindsight: do protégés react consequentialistically to paternalism?
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We investigate experimentally whether the protégés’ reaction to paternalism depends on the consequences of the paternalistic action to their well-being. Thus, our research is concerned with the perception of paternalism by those who are directly affected by it, rather than with the justifiability of paternalism from an ethical perspective. We find that the protégés punish a paternalist restricting their freedom of choice. Yet, this negative reaction is not based on principled grounds because, with the wisdom of hindsight, the protégés punish the paternalist only if the restriction makes them worse off. Conversely, if the restriction makes them better off, the protégés on average do not punish and, sometimes, they even reward the paternalist. This suggests that the protégés take predominantly a consequentialist stand on paternalism. In addition, a regression analysis reveals that our main finding is not altered when we control for the intentions (malevolent vs. benevolent) that the protégés attribute to the paternalist.
KeywordsInequality Aversion Strategy Method Paternalistic Intervention Experimental Currency Unit Poker Machine
We thank the managing editor Marc Fleurbaey, the editor in charge, and two anonymous referees for their constructive comments. We also thank Dominique Cappelletti, Alon Harel, Elina Lampi, Matteo Ploner, and Birendra Rai for helpful suggestions. The authors bear the responsibility for any errors and omissions.
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