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1 Amsterdam L.F. 89 (2008-2009)
Privacy and Technological Developments: Discussion Section: Review

handle is hein.journals/amslawf1 and id is 475 raw text is: amsterdamlawforum
R.H. Thaler, C.R. Sunstein
Penguin, 2009
306 pages, ISBN: 978-0-141-04001-1
Simon Roo.e*
Since the Culture Wars in the United States (U.S.), government influence has
been the subject of fierce debate. 'Nudge', written by Richard H. Thaler and
Cass R. Sunstein, tries to soften the often hard-edged ideological lines
between libertarianism and paternalism. This book is an attempt to steer
people in a direction without imposing any limitation on the choices they can
make. To do this Thaler and Sunstein used the term 'nudge', in normal
parlance, a gentle push to urge into action. The authors gave it a political
philosophical meaning: A nudge [... ] is any aspect of the choice architecture
that alters people's behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any
option or significantly changing their economic incentives. They illustrate
this with the example of Carolyn who is in charge of hundreds of school
cafeterias. She finds out that the food placed at eye level is most consumed
by the school children, regardless of whether it is vegetables or fast-food. By
arranging the cafeteria in such a way that the healthier food will be consumed
more, Carolyn can have a serious influence on the consumption and health
of the school children. This is an example of influence without affecting the
choice the pupils have. Students can still choose to eat candy bars and fast
Thaler and Sunstein use this example to show not only the way a nudge can
be used, but also that there is no neutral design. The choice architect
consciously constructs the context in which a decision is taken. Since the
design is conscious the choice-architect has the responsibility to anticipate
human behaviour. Carolyn knows that whatever decisions she makes
regarding the arrangement of the cafeterias, it will have an influence on the
eating-patterns of a number of children and their health. Hence she has to
decide what would be best for the children and frame the context in a way
that will make them healthier. Libertarian paternalism offers the option to
nudge, to influence without serious constrains. In order to keep open a
number of choices, a nudge must be avoidable with only very limited cost.
For the school children the cost will be reaching to a higher drawer or
* Simon Rooge recenth received his Master degree in European Studies and his Bachelor in Philosophy.
1 R. Thaler and C. Sunstein, Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness,
London: Penguin 2009, p. 6.

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