Politics of Nudging

Convenor: Bart Engelen, Assistant Professor, Tilburg University (The Netherlands)
E-mail: b.engelen@uvt.nl

Since Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein coined the term exactly one decade again, ‘nudging’ has received widespread attention from people within academia (behavioral economists, psychologists, political scientists, philosophers, et cetera), policy-making (politicians, civil servants, etcetera) and the broader public. Nudging techniques have been implemented and discussed in a wide variety of domains (health, traffic, architecture, design, education, etcetera) and by a wide variety of agents.
The arguments in favor and against are by now well-known. Proponents argue that nudging works, is cheap and avoids violation of liberty. Moreover, the influence of psychological heuristics and choice architectures is often inevitable. If we cannot avoid those, why not make use of (our increased knowledge about) them to influence people’s behavior for the better? Common objections are that nudging interferes with people’s autonomy, rationality and responsibility. Critics argue it is manipulative and influences people ‘behind their backs’.This is considered inappropriate or even illegitimate in liberal democracies as it isdisrespectful, condescending, infantilizing and even violating human dignity.

This workshop aims to focus specifically on the politics of nudging and thus on the legitimacyand justification of nudges by public institutions and/or in the political domain. Below you can find possible questions that can be relevant. These have been largely neglected in the debates, which have focused either on nudging in general or on purely ethical concerns with nudging. Of course, other questions and topics are welcome as well, as long as they relate to the general topic of the workshop.

• Which of the relevant objections are most (or least) forceful when it comes to political
nudges?
• Is the political justification of nudging any different than that of other policy measures
(such as coercing, incentivizing, subsidizing, informing)?
• Does the inevitability of choice architecture play a role in this respect?
• Should all policy measures (in whatever domain and regardless whether they provide
information, sanctions or subsidies) be behaviorally informed?
• Can nudges be detrimental to the active citizenship that democracy requires (and if
so, can this be avoided)?
• Can nudges promote democratic values (and if so, which and how)?
• Are nudges allowed in elections and referenda (e.g. framing candidates and referenda
questions)?
• Which nudges are particularly troublesome in democratic procedures (such as voting
by parliament members, agenda scheduling, organizing elections, et cetera)?
• Can nudges employed by private companies (such as Facebook’s timeline organizing)
threaten democracy?
• What measures should states take when it comes to restricting specific kind of choice
architectures in this respect?
We invite abstracts of 450-500 words (suitable for 30 minutes presentations). Please send your abstract, together with your name and affiliation to Bart Engelen (b.engelen@uvt.nl) by Thursday June 7, 2018. Applicants will be informed of a decision by Wednesday June 13, 2018. If you are a graduate student or retiree, you can apply for a bursary from the MANCEPT organizers, so make sure you send in your abstract on time.