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A constitutional economics perspective on soft paternalism


  • Schnellenbach, Jan


Using a framework that distinguishes short-term consumer preferences, individual reflective preferences and political preferences, we discuss from a constitutional economics perspective whether individuals find it in their common constitutional interest to endow representatives and bureaucrats with the competence to impose soft paternalist policies. The focus is specifically on soft paternalist policies, because these often work with non-transparent 'nudges' that are considered as manipulative in some contributions to the literature. We show that those soft paternalist policies that are manipulative indeed collide with three criteria of consumer sovereignty, reflective sovereignty and citizen sovereignty that can be argued to represent common constitutional interest of citizens. On the other hand, we argue that the set of paternalist policies that is deemed acceptable on the constitutional level is restricted to non-manipulative instruments, and their application as government policies is limited to cases with stable and very homogenous preferences. However, we also argue that competitive markets are capable of supplying many mechanisms that allow individuals to cope with problems in their decision-making processes on a private level.

Suggested Citation

  • Schnellenbach, Jan, 2015. "A constitutional economics perspective on soft paternalism," Freiburg Discussion Papers on Constitutional Economics 15/02, Walter Eucken Institut e.V..
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:aluord:1502

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    Cited by:

    1. Schubert, Christian, 2017. "Green nudges: Do they work? Are they ethical?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 132(C), pages 329-342.
    2. Christian Schubert, 2015. "On the ethics of public nudging: Autonomy and Agency," MAGKS Papers on Economics 201533, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Faculty of Business Administration and Economics, Department of Economics (Volkswirtschaftliche Abteilung).
    3. repec:eee:ecolec:v:143:y:2018:i:c:p:286-293 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    nudge; biases; autonomy; consumer sovereignty; reflective preferences; behavioural policies;

    JEL classification:

    • D11 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Theory
    • D18 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Protection
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • H11 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government - - - Structure and Scope of Government
    • Z18 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Public Policy


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