Stream 12

Libertarian Paternalism: a lead for the re-invention of the Welfare State


Stream convenors:
Literature on behavioural economics has brought new justifications to state intervention in the field of social policy. Behavioural economics is interested in how and why people do not conform to the rational behaviour pictured by standard economic theory and identifies new ‘behavioural market failures’ (Sunstein, 2014). Then, regulators are legitimate to intervene, and ‘libertarian paternalism’ combines attempts to amend the choices made under ‘irrational’ or inadequate behaviour, and the possibility for people to remain free to make their own choices. The interventions must take the form of ‘nudges’ (Thaler and Sustein, 2008), consisting in proposing choice architecture designed to encourage welfare-improving choice, while preserving people’s free choice.

‘Nudges’ have already received a lot of applications in the field of social policy in European countries: automatic enrolment in pension savings plans, choice in health insurance, fight against obesity and unhealthy behaviours principally. 

This stream will discuss if ‘libertarian paternalism’ can be seen as a way to re-invent the Welfare State, a Welfare state intervening under different forms and under a different philosophy.

Papers expected in this stream can be theoretical, empirical, or both. Theoretical papers can deal with the understanding and the implications of the ‘libertarian paternalism’ from a sociological, economic, political, or ethical perspective, or question the concept of ‘nudge’. Empirical papers can present experiments of ‘nudge’ in social policy (retirement, health, poverty, employment…) across Europe and their results.


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