“Better off, as judged by themselves”: a comment on evaluating nudges

Abstract

Many nudges are designed to make people better off, as judged by themselves. This criterion, meant to ensure that nudges will increase people’s welfare, contains some ambiguity. It is useful to distinguish among three categories of cases: (1) those in which choosers have clear antecedent preferences, and nudges help them to satisfy those preferences (often by increasing “navigability”); (2) those in which choosers face a self-control problem, and nudges help them to overcome that problem; and (3) those in which choosers would be content with the outcomes produced by two or more nudges, or in which ex post preferences are endogenous to nudges, so that without additional clarification or work, the “as judged by themselves” criterion does not identify a unique solution for choice architects. Category (1) is self-evidently large. Because many people agree that they suffer self-control problems, category (2) is large as well. Cases that fall in category (3) create special challenges, which may lead us to make direct inquiries into welfare or to explore what informed, active choosers typically select.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. Conly S (2014) Against autonomy. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  2. Cornwell JF, Krantz DH (2014) Public policy for thee, but not for me: varying the grammatical person of public policy justifications influences their support. Judgm Decis Mak 5:433–444

    Google Scholar 

  3. Dolan P (2014) Happiness by design. Penguin, New York

  4. Elster J (1983) Sour grapes. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  5. Goldin J (2015) Which way to nudge? Uncovering preferences in the behavioral age. Yale Law J 125:226–271

    Google Scholar 

  6. Goldin J, Lawson N (2016) Defaults, mandates, and taxes: policy design with active and passive decision-makers. Am J Law Econ 18:438–462

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Halpern D (2015) Inside the nudge unit: how small changes can make a big difference. W. H. Allen, London

    Google Scholar 

  8. Halpern SD et al (2015) Randomized trial of four financial-incentive programs for smoking cessation. N Eng J Med 372:2108–2211

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Infante G, Lecouteux G, Sugden R (2016) Preference purification and the inner rational agent: a critique of the conventional wisdom of behavioural welfare economics. J Econ Methodol 23:1–25

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Jung JY, Mellers BA (2016) American attitudes toward nudges. Judgm Decis Mak 11(1):62–74

    Google Scholar 

  11. Lichtenstein S, Slovic P (2006) The construction of preference. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  12. Reisch L, Sunstein CR (2016) Do Europeans like nudges? Judgm Decis Mak 11:310–325

    Google Scholar 

  13. Stroud S, Tappolet C (eds) (2003) Weakness of will and practical irrationality. Clarendon Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  14. Sugden R (2016) Do people really want to be nudged towards healthy lifestyles? Int Rev Econ. doi:10.1007/s12232-016-0264-1

  15. Sunstein CR (2014) Why Nudge?. Yale University Press, New Haven

    Google Scholar 

  16. Sunstein CR (2016a) The council of psychological advisers. Ann Rev Psychol 67:713–737

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Sunstein CR (2016b) The ethics of influence. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  18. Sunstein CR, Reisch LA (2014) Automatically green: behavioral economics and environmental protection. Harvard Environ Law Rev 38:127–158

    Google Scholar 

  19. Sunstein CR, Reich L, Rauber J (2017) Behavioral insights all over the world? Public attitudes toward nudging in a multi-country study. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2921217

  20. Thaler RH (2015) Misbehaving. Norton, New York

    Google Scholar 

  21. Thaler RH, Sunstein CR (2008) Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Yale University Press, New Haven

    Google Scholar 

  22. Tversky A, Thaler RH (1990) Anomalies: preference reversals. J Econ Perspect 4:201–211

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Ullmann-Margalit E (2017) Normal rationality. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  24. Wolf F (1990) Parallel universes: the search for other worlds. Simon & Schuster, New York

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

I am grateful to the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy for support and to Jacob Goldiu and Lucia Reisch for valuable comments on a previous draft.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Cass R. Sunstein.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sunstein, C.R. “Better off, as judged by themselves”: a comment on evaluating nudges. Int Rev Econ 65, 1–8 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12232-017-0280-9

Download citation

Keywords

  • Nudges
  • Default rules
  • Preferences
  • Behavioral economics

JEL Classification

  • D003
  • D10
  • D11
  • D18
  • D60
  • D80
  • K0
  • K2