Libertarian Paternalism


This, so I’ve read, is the new buzz word on everyone’s lips. Basically, Libertarian Paternalists place their faith in ‘Nudging’ rather than compulsion. ‘Nudgers’ are paternalistic because they are compassionate, but libertarian because they don’t like government compulsion. It’s attractive to Conservatives and conducive with the Compassionate Conservatism of David Cameron. In fact Cameron plugged the chief exponent of this and a plethora of other new philosophies, Richard Thaler, in a speech last month.

Libertarian Paternalism draws on the human sensitivity to peer pressure and tendency to observe and follow the example set by senior societal figures. For instance, when Cameron publically castigated WH Smith for selling chocolate at reduced prices, a stunned WH Smith was forced to respond by pointing out its dry fruit option.

Drawing attention to the role of retailers in the health of the nation reverberated and may have affected the products shops market and the products customers buy. This is achieved without government compulsion. As Cameron said,

“Of course we cannot regulate in this regard but can point the finger, we can ask awkward questions and we can put some pressure on and I believe politicians and others should do so.”

This approach is key to Compassionate Conservatism, and indicates a shift in the role of politicians from law-makers to ‘Nudgers’. Often we call for a ‘change of culture’ to achieve a given improvement. Legislation is frequently inadequate to quite force such a change and this is where Libertarian Paternalism steps in.


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