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Welfare now

In: Research Handbook on Nudges and Society


  • Cass R. Sunstein


I will be making one general argument here. I hope that it will not be controversial. It will serve as an umbrella for three more particular arguments, and they might be controversial. The general argument is that behaviorally informed interventions, like all other interventions, should be evaluated by reference to their effects on human welfare. The first of the particular arguments, and the one I mean on which I mean to press most heavily, is that it is important to focus on the effects of interventions on people’s emotional states. Those effects are only part of the picture, of course; but they are often neglected. The second of my particular arguments is that behaviorally informed interventions, like all other interventions, should be evaluated in terms of distributive justice, and in particular in terms of their effects on those at the bottom of the welfare ladder. Some interventions have beneficial aggregate effects, but do not help, and might hurt, those at the bottom. That is a serious problem. The third particular argument is that personalized interventions have a great deal of promise in increasing human welfare, in part because they can increase the benefits of interventions in terms of people’s emotional states, and in part because they can promote distributive justice. An intervention might, for example, be applied to those who are least likely to lose from it (including by being distressed or anguished), and it might also be applied, or not applied, to those at the bottom of the welfare ladder, depending on whether they would be helped or hurt. To see how these arguments might work, consider three examples.

Suggested Citation

  • Cass R. Sunstein, 2023. "Welfare now," Chapters, in: Cass R. Sunstein & Lucia A. Reisch (ed.), Research Handbook on Nudges and Society, chapter 5, pages 70-89, Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • Handle: RePEc:elg:eechap:22035_5

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