Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Smiling Daggers

Paul Hsieh has an interesting commentary on President Obama's embrace of something called "libertarian paternalism." Obama appointed Cass Sunstein, who authored this concept, as a senior regulatory official in his administration. The concept says that government should "nudge" us with coercive measures to do "good things" such as eating better foods, saving for retirement, encouraging our children to do their homework, etc.

The nudges involve handing back our tax money to us in the form of credits or deductions, or even paying us for performance, again using the tax money already taken from us. The "nudge" may also be more direct, such as New York City's ban on the use of trans fats in restaurants.

All of this is for our "good." But who determines this good? Answer: Cass Sunstein or sundry other regulatory officials who make it their life's work determining what is good for me, or even President Obama himself. Accepted in this premise is that the judgment of these individuals must forcefully supplant my own judgment about my own life. I am not permitted to make my own decisions on topics that these officials have determined are worthy of their attention.

These nudges come at the expense of my personal liberty. A society where people are nudged about is one where individual rights are absent. That is the society we are being nudged to accept.

As Mr. Sunstein and his cohort of regulators, led by the regulator-in-chief, President Obama, prescribe and proscribe in the minutest detail how we are to live our lives, don't be fooled by confusing phrases such as "libertarian paternalism," or by the broad smile of President Obama as he appoints Mr. Sunstein to take on his duties. "Libertarian" is seemingly based on "liberty"; "paternalism" derives from the Latin word for "father." There is nothing "fatherly" in government ordering adult Americans about; we are not children. Moreover, liberty cannot exist where government is telling us what to do. These terms are meant to confuse. In such confusion, government power is rationalized and expanded. It is a tactic that has been used by dictators throughout history.

In George Orwell's fictional 1984, the dictator "Big Brother" said, "Freedom is slavery." In the same oxymoronic manner, "Liberty is paternalism."

Don't be fooled.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

read his book,nudge. no one is forced into anything. Libertarian paternalism has two parts. Paternalism tries to encourage optimal choices (although optimal can be subjective) while libertarian encourages freedom to act. These "nudges" are such that when presented with choices, the default or easiest choice should be the most beneficial, not necessarily random. the person must always still be free to choose.
Not saying i agree with it but it sounds like you don't even understand the basic concept.