Digressions and Impressions blog
Originally published September 30, 2016
Here is an excerpt:
Nudging is paternalist. But by making exit easy and avoidance cheap nudges are thought to avoid the worst moral and political problems of paternalism and (other) manipulative practices. (What counts as a significant change of economic incentives is, of course, very contestable, but we leave that aside here.) Nudges may, in fact, sometimes enhance autonomy and freedom, but the way Sunstein & Thaler define 'nudge' one may nudge also for immoral ends. Social engineering does not question the ends.
The modern administrative state is, however, not just a rule-following Weberian bureaucracy where the interaction between state and citizen is governed by the exchange of forms, information, and money. Many civil servants, including ones with very distinct expertise (physicians, psychologists, lawyers, engineers, social service workers, therapists, teachers, correction officers, etc.) enter quite intimately into the lives of lots of citizens. Increasingly (within the context of new public management), government professionals and hired consultants are given broad autonomy to meet certain targets (quotas, budget or volume numbers, etc.) within constrained parameters. (So, for example, a physician is not just a care provider, but also somebody who can control costs.) Bureaucratic management and the political class are agnostic about how the desired outcomes are met, as long as it is legal, efficient and does not generate bad media or adverse political push-back.
The blog post is here.