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Simple nudges that are not so easy

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Document pages: 19 pages

Abstract: In this paper, we critically review three assumptions that govern the debate on the legitimacy of nudging interventions as a policy instrument: (1) nudges may violate autonomous decision-making; (2) nudges lend themselves to easy implementation in public policy; and (3) nudges are a simple and effective mean for steering individual choice in the right direction. Our analysis reveals that none of these assumptions are supported by recent studies entailing unique insights into nudging from three disciplinary outlooks: ethics, public administration and psychology. We find that nudges are less of a threat to autonomous choice than critics sometimes claim, making them ethically more legitimate than often assumed. Nonetheless, because their effectiveness is critically dependent on boundary conditions, their implementation is far from easy. The findings of this analysis thus suggest new opportunities for identifying when and for whom nudge interventions are preferable to more conventional public policy arrangements.

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