A lot of the the ideas associated with nudge theory and other concepts of behavioral economics or behavioral science are fairly common sense. People have know how to influence others through structuring decisions and adjusting information for a very long time. What’s different now, though, partly as a result of academics like Thaler and Sunstein, is the data and evidence that exists behind these concepts.
Personally, we struggle a little with the ideal of Libertarian Paternalism. We think saying that it’s possible to influence others while still leaving them choice is perhaps technically true, but it’s a bit like trying to have your cake and eat it to. That said, allowing that independent choice is hugely important and we don’t dispute that at all.
We also think the fact that the rules of nudge theory call out that nudging should only be used to improve the welfare of those being nudged is indicative of the damage nudge can do. In the same way that weapons can fall into the hands of self-interested people, the concepts behind nudge and other forms of behavioral science can easily be used by unscrupulous individuals. It’s for this reason that we think that individuals benefit from learning about the concept.
Overall, we think that nudging is fascinating as a concept. We think there are some great uses for it that are truly benevolent both in the world of work and in the wider world. However, we think that the concepts behind behavioral science are often misused.