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Nudge policies and Negative Liberty

Writing sample

Olga Fjodorowa Msc, MA

Table of Contents
Abstract ............................................................................................................................................... 2
1.

Introduction ................................................................................................................................. 2

2.

Nudge Theory .............................................................................................................................. 3

3.

Nudge Theory as violating Negative Freedom .............................................................................. 4

4.

The types of Nudges and their individual impact on negative freedom ......................................... 6
4.1

Type 1: Activating a desired behaviour Externally-imposed Mindful Encourage ............ 9

4.2

Type 2: Activating a desired behaviour Externally-imposed Mindful Discourage ........... 9

4.3
Type 3 and 4: Activating a desired behaviour Externally-imposed Mindless Encourage
and Discourage .............................................................................................................................. 10
4.4
Types 5 and 6: Boosting self-control Externally-imposed Mindful Encourage &
Discourage..................................................................................................................................... 11
4.5
Types 7 and 8: Boosting self-control Externally-imposed Mindless Encourage &
Discourage..................................................................................................................................... 12
4.6

The four Self-Imposed types of nudge policies .................................................................... 12

5.

Conclusion. ................................................................................................................................ 13

6.

Literature List. ............................................................................................................................ 15

Abstract
In this paper I will consider the claim that nudging reduces the degree of negative liberty. There
are twelve different general types of nudge policies, and their impact on negative liberty will
vary. I will show that not all nudge policies decrease negative liberty to a degree. Thus there are
nudge policies which can be safely implemented by liberal governments.

1. Introduction
The democratic government has always been a topic of debate, in particular what its duties and
powers should be. Since the rise of communism and the welfare state these debates have
increasingly focused on the question of how extended the state ought to be. At the one side of
the debate libertarians have argued that the state should be minimal, and should not interfere
with the liberty of citizens. At the other side, paternalists have argued that the purpose of the
state is the promotion of wellbeing of its citizens.
Recently Thalter and Sunstein (2009) have proposed a third approach, which they call
libertarian paternalism. Their idea is that the state ought to gently nudge citizens to make the
choices most beneficial for them and the society they live in, without removing the right to
choose. In this way, Thaler and Sunstein (2009) argue, the liberty will be preserved while the
welfare of the citizens will increase. Additionally, this method is often cheaper to implement
than the traditional tools of the state, such as taxation, regulation and bans. The usage of
nudges can thus decrease the size of the state, in the long run potentially also reducing the
taxes imposed on citizens.
Libertarian paternalism promises great benefits, but there are fears that the implementation of
such policies will reduce the citizens liberty. Authors such as Grne-Yanoff (2012) have argued
at least some nudge policies decrease negative liberty by interfering in the choice process. Ly et
al. (2013) have identified twelve general types of nudge policies. This paper will examine which
of the general nudge policy types do indeed decrease negative liberty, and whether there are
general types of nudge policies which can be acceptable from the point of view of libertarians.
This paper is structured as follows. In chapter 2 I will discuss the general theory of nudge
policies. In chapter 3 I will look at negative freedom and examine the claim that at least some
nudge policies decrease negative freedom. In chapter 4 will discuss the twelve general types of
nudge policies and consider their impact on the negative freedom. Finally, chapter 5 will offer
the conclusion.
2

2. Nudge Theory
Thaler and Sunstein (2009) provide a definition of a nudge: A nudge, as we will use the term, is
any aspect of the choice architecture that alters peoples behavior in a predictable way without
forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere
nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates.1
Thaler and Sunstein (2009) begin with the insight that a choice is always made within a choice
architecture. Choice architecture is a context in which people make decisions. One cannot thus
avoid deciding upon a choice architecture, for even a random assignment of choices is in itself a
choice architecture decision.
Choice architects are the ones responsible for designing the choice architecture. When choice
architects, in particular governments and social institutions, wish to promote certain behaviour,
they essentially have two options. Liberal governments usually chose the Just Maximize
strategy, by maximizing the number and the variety of different options. Often this is paired
with forced-choice strategy, forcing the citizen to select the option best suited for their needs.
The Just Maximize strategy maximally respects the liberty of the choosers, and relies on the
choosers to be fully informed and capable of making perfect choices. The disadvantage of this
strategy is that it often implies high costs for the choosers in terms of time, effort and mental
energy. The resulting choice process is often incredibly cumbersome, and the outcomes are
usually not as good as they could have been. A very good example of this is the design of a
Swedish Privatizing Plan, discussed by Thaler and Sunstein (2009)2.
Another option, often preferred by the paternalists, is to make certain types of behaviours
mandatory. Here one can think of mandatory usage of car seatbelts. Such regulations maximally
protect the citizens from making choices that they would otherwise regret, and in a way
provide simplicity to peoples lives by not requiring the citizens to spend their mental energy on
making certain decisions. The disadvantage lies of course in the limited freedom for the
choosers, and with the costs from having one size that does not fit all.
Nudging provides an alternative to these two strategies. It basically provides the chooser with a
preliminary choice. One can either disregard the nudge and decide for oneself what option suits
ones preferences most, or one can follow the nudge, and save the time and mental energy
necessary to make a well-informed decision. Of course there are many different kinds of
nudges, and many possible ways by which nudging can be done. Ly et al (2013) have even
1

Thaler S. R., Sunstein C. R., [2009], Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Yale
University Press, New Haven & London, p 6.
2
Thaler S. R., Sunstein C. R., [2009], Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Yale
University Press, New Haven & London, p 145 - 156

identified twelve general types of nudges. All these different types differ not only in
implementation strategy, but also in their impact on liberty. I will return to these different
types in Chapter 4.
Nudge Theory is based upon the understanding on how humans actually behave, rather than
how they should be behaving. It assumes that humans are among others fallible, are sometimes
busy, sometimes lazy, and sometimes emotional. Therefore the choices that humans make are
often not the best ones that they could have made. And humans could thus benefit from gently
being nudged into the right direction, or having the best choice highlighted, or being told that
water is good for you. Nudging offers a low-cost way by which the governments and other
institutions can adjust behaviour, while still respecting the freedom of choice.
The trouble with Nudge Theory starts to arise when people are unaware of being nudged,
which is a common occurrence. The most prominent example of it is advertising. Advertising
has nudged us for a long time to purchase certain goods, by promising love, wealth, beauty,
fame and many other things to those who purchase a bar of soap. Of course it is not
unimaginable that a bar of soap contributes to all those things, but the relationship far more
complicated than the advertisers would want us to believe. We consider nudging to be
perfectly permissible if it comes from business who only care about our money, and not so
permissible from the governments which may want us to live happier and better lives.
Unfortunately, we cannot be certain that the governments do indeed care about our wellbeing,
though the chances of that being true for a government are significantly higher than for a
business.

3. Nudge Theory as violating Negative Freedom


The idea that governments should apply nudges in order to save the tax-payers money is mostly
criticized from the libertarian camp for not respecting the citizens freedom. Grne-Yanoff
(2012) argues that liberal paternalism violates the liberal principles. According to him liberal
paternalism limits freedom, and fails to justify such limitations in a way that is acceptable to
liberal positions. He points out:
. some LP policies constitute non-transparent manipulation, and hence reduce peoples
degree of republican liberty; and further that other LP policies interfere in choice processes, and
hence reduce peoples degree of negative liberty.3

Grne-Yanoff T., [2012], Old wine in new casks: libertarian paternalism still violates liberal principles, Social
Choice & Welfare, Volume 38, Issue 4 , p 635-645,
http://home.abe.kth.se/~gryne/papers/LiberalWelfare101111.pdf (checked 25 July 2013) p 1.

This paper focuses on the question whether nudging people by the government is contrary to
the concept of negative liberty. In order to examine the argument offered by Grne-Yanoff one
first needs to understand what is meant by negative liberty. I will very briefly consider this
concept.
Isaiah Berlin (1969) provides perhaps the most famous account of negative liberty and defines it
as freedom from coercion:
I am normally said to be free to the degree to which no man or body of men interferes with my
activity. Political liberty in this sense is simply the area within which a man can act unobstructed
by others.4
And,
Coercion implies the deliberate interference of other human beings within the area in which I
could otherwise act. You lack political liberty or freedom only if you are prevented from
attaining a goal by human beings. Mere incapacity to attain a goal is not lack of political
freedom.5 (emphasis is mine)
Negative liberty focuses on the factors external to the person. These factors are usually thought
to be constraints imposed on the person by other people and the state. Usually proponents of
negative liberty argue against any interference from the state, unless this interference is used
to protect certain liberties, such as freedom of religion, freedom of movement, freedom of
personal property and so on. On this account of freedom, I am free as long as nobody prevents
me from doing certain things, such as attending a university for example. If I am unable to
attend university because I am physically disabled, or too poor, or the university is too far away
from where I live, then my liberty is not diminished. If my angry parents have locked me up so
that I will not attend university, then I become unfree to do so.
The key point here is that Berlin (1969) is very specific about when one lacks negative freedom:
only when other humans prevent you from attaining your goal. This means that Grne-Yanoff
(2012) is right in saying that a mere interference already decreases the degree of negative
freedom. But, a mere interference does not make you unfree, unless this interference prevents
you from achieving your goal.

Berlin I., [1958,1969], Two concepts of Liberty, Four Essays on Liberty, Oxford: Oxford University Press,
http://www.wiso.unihamburg.de/fileadmin/wiso_vwl/johannes/Ankuendigungen/Berlin_twoconceptsofliberty.pdf (checked 27 July 27,
2013), p 3
5
Berlin I., [1958,1969], Two concepts of Liberty, Four Essays on Liberty, Oxford: Oxford University Press,
http://www.wiso.unihamburg.de/fileadmin/wiso_vwl/johannes/Ankuendigungen/Berlin_twoconceptsofliberty.pdf (checked 27 July 27,
2013), p 3

One can wonder if this reduction of freedom is as unacceptable as the libertarians make it
appear. There are two points that can be made here. The first is that if the government has a
certain degree of paternalism in its ideology, then the alternatives to nudges may decrease the
liberty a lot more than the libertarian paternalism policies will ever do. An example of this is the
public ban on smoking. In this case, the government has tried to do some nudging first by
providing warning labels on the packaging. When this has proven to be less effective than
hoped, taxes were raised and eventually a public ban was enacted. It is possible that using
several nudge policies at once, could have had a similar effect, without reducing the negative
liberty to damage own health quite so much.
The second point is that in the long-run, nudge measures may actually promote negative
liberty. The key argument provided by Thaler and Sunstein (2009) is that nudge policies are
cheaper to implement than their alternatives. This is both due to the low-cost for the citizens
on whom these measures are implemented, and due to low-cost of implementation for the
government itself. A nudge does not need to be enforced; therefore there are no enforcement
costs. Thus less taxation money will be needed to maintain the government itself. And perhaps
one of the oldest claims from the libertarian camp is that taxation reduces negative liberty, for
it diminishes the freedom to own property.
One can wonder whether slightly decreasing negative freedom in order to prevent much larger
decreases, or to (slightly) increase another aspect of negative liberty can be justifiable in ways
acceptable to liberal positions. If it is justified, then part of the objection to libertarian
paternalism that Grne-Yanoff (2012) makes will be removed or at least weakened. It is
unfortunately outside the scope of this paper to discuss this point in detail.
Grne-Yanoff (2012) argues that his criticism applies to at least some of the libertarian
paternalism principles6. Perhaps there are other nudge policies which do not decrease the
negative freedom of citizens. This question is the topic of the next chapter.

4. The types of Nudges and their individual impact on negative freedom


According to Ly et al (2013) nudge policies share characteristics which can be classified across
four dimensions:
1. Boosting Self-Control vs. Activating a Desired Behaviour.
2. Externally-Imposed vs. Self-Imposed.
3. Mindful vs. Mindless.
4. Encourage vs. Discourage
6

Grne-Yanoff T., [2012], Old wine in new casks: libertarian paternalism still violates liberal principles, Social
Choice & Welfare, Volume 38, Issue 4 , p 635-645,
http://home.abe.kth.se/~gryne/papers/LiberalWelfare101111.pdf (checked 25 July 2013) p 1.

The first dimension distinguishes between nudge policies which help the individual follow
through with their decision (boosts self-control) and policies which help the citizen to make a
decision to which the chooser is inattentive to, or finds to be unimportant (activating desired
behaviour) . There are areas in life in which there is a discrepancy between what people say
they want to do, and what they end up doing. Perhaps the best examples of this are the New
Year goals. Most people do try to follow through with their intentions, but tend to give up or
forget about their goals in a few months. If people genuinely wish to proceed with their
intentions but lack the self-control necessary to do it, then they can benefit from nudge policies
which boost self-control. Policies which activate desired behaviour focus on the aspects of life
where citizens do not consciously consider what the best behaviour should be. Here one can
think of littering and excessive drinking. As Ly et al. (2013) point out: ... nudges that seek to
activate latent or non-existent behavioural standards in people rely on exposing them to
conditions in which those standards become more salient 7. Nudges in these areas can help
develop good habits.
The second dimension looks at whether a nudge will be voluntarily adopted. Self-imposed
nudges are voluntarily and actively adopted by people to influence their own behaviour. An
example would be going to work on a bicycle to meet an exercise goal. Externally-imposed
nudges are those which passively shape behaviour by presenting a choice in a certain way
without constraining that choice, such as by the use of a default option.
The third dimension focuses on the biases and heuristics that humans use in their decision
making. Mindful nudges attempt to free the decision maker from his biases and allow for a
more deliberate cognitive decision making. Mindless nudges at the other hand make use of
those biases and heuristics such as emotions and framing to sway the decisions towards certain
goals.
The fourth dimension looks at whether the nudges encourage or discourage certain behaviours.
An advertisement drink more water! on a hot day would be an example of an encouraging
nudge.
Ly et al. (2013) have combined those four dimensions into twelve distinct nudge policy types.
They have provided the following table to demonstrate the twelve types:

Ly K., Maar N., Zhao M., Soman D., [2013], A Practitioners Guide to Nudging, Research Report Series:
Behavioural Economics in Action, Rotman School of Management , University of Toronto, 7

Table 1: The twelve general types of nudge policies.8


The question is to what degree each of those general types impacts negative liberty. If the
impact is substantial, then Grne-Yanoffs (2012) criticism is correct and these policies should
not be used by a liberal government. If the impact is modest, then it can be considered whether
the benefits of implementing this policy can outweigh the degree of reduction of negative
freedom. If a policy does not seem to decrease the degree of negative freedom or this decrease
is insignificantly small, then the use of such policies should be encouraged.

Ly K., Maar N., Zhao M., Soman D., [2013], A Practitioners Guide to Nudging, Research Report Series:
Behavioural Economics in Action, Rotman School of Management , University of Toronto, 8

4.1 Type 1: Activating a desired behaviour Externally-imposed Mindful Encourage

Activating desired behaviour refers to policies which help guide the citizens towards certain
behaviours in situations where the citizens do not actively think about what the right behaviour
should be. Usually in these situations the citizens are inattentive, or do not consider the
behaviour to be very important. Such policies are per definition externally-imposed. Mindful
nudges help the decision maker make deliberate and conscious decisions.
Ly et al. (2013) provide simplifying tax rules to make tax filing easier as an example of this
type of nudge policy. Reducing the degree of complexity allows people to make better informed
decisions. And since people do not usually go around questioning themselves whether or not
they will be filing their taxes this year this policy counts as activating desired behaviour.
This type of policy will only moderately decrease the degree of negative freedom. The policies
which activate a desired behaviour do interfere in the choice process by altering the choice
architecture, and thus the criticism expressed by Grne-Yanoff (2012) has some merit. Yet, the
mindful aspect of this policy promotes negative freedom and therefore counters some of the
reduction imposed by the policy activating a desired behaviour.

4.2 Type 2: Activating a desired behaviour Externally-imposed Mindful Discourage

This type of nudge policy is very similar to the previous one, with the only difference being that
this type is about discouraging certain behaviours, rather than encouraging them. Ly et al.
(2013) classify placing signs to remind people not to litter under this category. The placement of
a sign please do not litter does not constrain the choice of behaviour in any way. People are
completely free to ignore the sign and litter, though they are requested not to. A similar
situation would arise if another person would walk up to me and ask me not to litter. I believe
that I would be overreacting if I were to respond to every person who makes a request of me
that they are decreasing my negative liberty by interfering in my choice process.
Yet it is clear that such a sign or a request of another citizen requires me to behave in a certain
way for which I have not expressed a previous desire for. It does therefore have a negative
impact on the negative liberty, but this effect is nearly non-existent. Even if it was my life-goal
to litter all the time, I could not possibly claim that a mere sign is an obstacle which can prevent
me from achieving that goal.
This example highlights one crucial point already made by Thaler and Sunstein (2009) with
regards to policy design: the exit-option. In the example given here the exit-option is present
because you can simply ignore the sign. Since doing so is very easy, the exit-value is very high.
With regards to simplifying regulations, no exit-option is given since you cannot request that
the simplifications would not apply to you. Therefore the impact on negative liberty there is

greater. Thus the impact of a policy on negative liberty also depends on the design on a
particular nudge.
In general though, we can say that nudge policies which activate a desired behaviour have a
negative impact on negative liberty, the degree of which depends on the individual policy
design. However, the mindful type of measures mitigates that impact by providing the citizens
with an enhanced choice and by making such choices more deliberate. Therefore the nudge
policies which combine activating a desired behaviour with mindful aspect have a moderate
to small impact on the negative liberty. They do interfere in the choice process, but they do not
constrain the choice made. And even this interference is designed to promote rather than
diminish negative liberty. Mindful policies do not provide an obstacle for a person to meet his
goals.
Thus these two types of nudge policies can be used by liberal governments if close attention is
paid to the design of individual policies. It is very important to consider exit-option in the design
of a nudge policy.

4.3 Type 3 and 4: Activating a desired behaviour Externally-imposed Mindless


Encourage and Discourage

These types of nudge policies differ from the two previously discussed ones in that they are
designed to be mindless rather than mindful. Mindless nudges attempt to modify the decisions
made by using emotions and biases that humans are prone to. The activating desired
behaviour Mindless types are the ones that the critics are most concerned with, because
these policies can be considered as manipulative by exploiting the citizens ignorance or
irrationality. These policies seek to elicit certain responses by bypassing deliberate
considerations.
Yet caution must be exercised when claiming that such policies are exploitative, for there are
multiple theories about what constitutes exploitation9. What most of these theories agree on is
that for an action to be exploitative, the exploiter must benefit from exploiting the victim. It is
not clear that a democratic government would benefit from nudging its citizens, since the
nudges are designed to be in the best interest of the citizens. Even if one could argue that some
policies may not be in the best interest of a certain individual, this individual could benefit from
the possible decrease in taxation as a result of implementation of the cheap nudge policies.
In any case, the policies used as an example of these two types may be considered to be fairly
harmless. Policies such as signs which invoke social pressure, and fake speed bumps have a
potential for providing great social and economic benefits at the low cost. Thaler and Sunstein
9

Wertheimer A., Zwolinski M., [2001, 2012], Exploitation, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/exploitation/ (checked 1 August 2013)

10

(2009)10 have also addressed the concerns that critics may have about the slippery slope, and
the possibility that the nudges may be used for bad purposes.
Yet this does not change the fact that the both crucial components of such policies, activating
a desired behaviour and mindless, have a negative impact on negative liberty. I have
previously already discussed the impact of activating desired behaviour on negative liberty.
Mindless types also negatively impact the negative liberty and the freedom of choice because
they provide an obstacle, such as an emotional response, to deliberate and cognitive decision
making. The combined effect of activating a desired behaviour and mindless can be
substantial. It is therefore advised for the liberal governments to not to deploy such policies. If
negative liberty is a crucial concern, then even the potential of such policies to provide large
benefits should not override the preference for negative liberty.

4.4 Types 5 and 6: Boosting self-control Externally-imposed Mindful Encourage &


Discourage

These two general types of nudge policies include policies which help citizens meet their selfset goals without creating any obligations. The externally-imposed policies can suggest possible
goals by providing gentle nudges towards (socially) beneficial behaviour. The nudges are
mindful and designed to make the decision making process easier and more pleasant.
The two examples provided by Ly et al. (2013) help the citizens to meet self-set goals by either
eliminating obstacles (simplifying application process for college grants to encourage higherlevel education), or by providing clear information (installing car dashboards that track mileage
to reduce gas usage). They only offer support to meet self-set goals (the boosting self-control
factor) while being perfectly ignorable by those who do not have such goals. If I have no
intention to attend a university, nor do I wish to reduce my gas usage (perhaps because I do not
own a car) then these policies have no impact on me.
Policies which include boosting self-control and mindful aspects in fact simply provide the
tools needed for better decision making. It is up to the user whether or not to make use of such
tools. These policies do not interfere in the choice process, unless one sees the provision of
information or suitable tools as interference. Therefore they do not decrease the degree of
negative liberty, and perhaps even promote the negative liberty by removing the obstacles to
decision making. The fact that they are externally-imposed does have a negative effect on the
negative freedom, but I believe that the positive effect from the other two components
(mindful and boosting self-control) mitigate the small negative impact. Therefore such
policies should be considered to be implemented by the government.
10

Thaler S. R., Sunstein C. R., [2009], Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Yale
University Press, New Haven & London, p 236 - 241

11

4.5 Types 7 and 8: Boosting self-control Externally-imposed Mindless Encourage &


Discourage

The two examples of these types of policies provided by Ly et al. (2013) are automatically
enrolling for prescription refills to encourage taking medication, and placing unhealthy foods in
harder to reach places. The liberals have trouble with such policies because they are mindless
and therefore try to bypass the deliberate decision making.
The impact of these two types of policies on negative liberty is perhaps the hardest to judge, for
such policies offer plenty of space for abuse. It can be questioned whether there is a significant
difference between automatic medication prescription and automatic renewal of journal
subscriptions after the subscription has stopped being free.
The key issue here is that while these policies are designed to boost self-control, because they
are mindless they do not ask of the user whether the user wanted to have that self-control
boosted. So there is an issue here regarding to the agents real interests, and there is no clear
consensus as to what these interests should entail. For paternalists it is in the agents real
interest to live a long, healthy and happy life. For liberals, such as for example John Stuart Mill,
it is in the agents real interest to life a self-determined life, to discover own limits and own
way of life. For them, paternalism offers an obstacle in this self-realization, for what can be
seen as good for the majority is not necessary beneficial for the individual. It is out of the
scope of this paper to discuss this issue in much detail, but with regards to these two general
types of nudge policies it can be questioned to what degree they are self-control boosting.
Unfortunately it is out of the scope of this paper to study these two particular types of policies
in great detail. In general, I would advise the governments not to implement such policies
before they have been extensively studied in controlled settings.

4.6 The four Self-Imposed types of nudge policies

The crucial aspect of self-imposed nudge policies is that they are imposed by a citizen himself
upon himself. These policies are therefore per definition part of a citizens private life and
outside of the work scope of the government. Self-imposed nudges do not violate the subjects
autonomy or restrict the citizens negative liberty in any way, because they are not imposed up
on the citizen by someone else. Whether the policy is mindful or mindless also has no
impact on the negative liberty, for it is the private choice of the individual on how to nudge
himself. These policies cannot be enacted without the citizens active and deliberate consent
regardless of them being mindful or mindless.

12

5. Conclusion.
In this paper I have considered the claim that the nudge policies reduce the degree of negative
freedom (Grne-Yanoff, 2012). Nudge policies are a part of the libertarian paternalism
movement which is increasingly becoming the topic of discussion after Thaler and Sunstein
have published their book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness on
this topic in 2009. Nudge policies provide a cheap method of government interference focused
on gently nudging citizens towards behaviour which will benefit the citizens and the society
they live in, without reducing the freedom of choice. Such policies are designed in a way that
makes them cheap to be ignored. Nudge policies assume that most people are fallible, have
limited mental energy and time, and sometimes prefer to be doing other things than making
complicated decisions. These people can therefore benefit from being nudged into the right
direction. According to the authors, libertarian paternalism applied by the state can lead to a
better and smaller state. This could in the future also lead to the reduction of taxes, as the state
overhead costs will be lower due to the implementation of nudge policies.
The liberal camp has expressed some concerns with this theory, most notably that the policies
reduce liberty. A good example of such concerns is a paper by Grne-Yanoff (2012), where the
author points out that by interfering with the choice process nudge policies decrease the
degree of negative liberty. In this paper I have examined the impact of the different types of
nudge policies on the negative liberty.
Lt et al., (2013) have identified twelve general types of nudge policies. A brief analysis has
shown that the impact of a nudge policy on the negative liberty does not only depend on the
type of nudge policy, but also on the design of that particular policy. The policies which are very
easy and cheap to be ignored decrease the negative freedom to a lesser degree than the
policies which are harder to ignore. Keeping this in mind it can generally be concluded that
some types of policies have a larger impact than the others.
The criticism expressed by Grne-Yanoff (2012) mostly applies to the Activating a desired
behaviour Mindless types of nudge policies. Most policies of these types appear to be
harmless, but they have a large negative impact on negative liberty. These policies are nontransparent and greatly interfere in the choice process. If negative liberty is a concern, then the
government should not deploy the policies of this type.
The Activating a desired behaviour Mindful types of policies have a small to moderate effect
on the negative liberty. These policies can be considered to be paternalistic. If a close attention
is paid to the design of individual policies of these types, then they can be used by liberal
governments if the benefits of such policies exceed their costs (including the cost of the
reduced liberty).

13

The Boosting self-control Mindful types can actually increase the degree of negative liberty
by providing better tools for decision making and functioning as an alternative to the traditional
governmental tools, such as taxation. These policies are designed to help the user make more
deliberate, better informed and well considered decisions. These types of nudge policies should
be the first to be considered for implementation by a liberal government.
Boosting self-control Mindless types heavily depend on the theory of what constitutes the
agents real interests. Their impact on negative liberty is therefore unclear and should be
studied in more detail. Finally, the four Self-Imposed types of nudge policies are outside of
the governments concern, since they per definition cannot be imposed on a person by
someone else.
Different types of nudge policies have different impacts on negative liberty, and the
permissibility of their implementation varies as well. Instead of the two camps arguing between
themselves as to whether the government should be using the nudge policies or not, perhaps
the discussion should be about which general types of nudge policies can be used and how they
should be designed as to preserve negative liberty while offering substantial benefits to the
citizens and the state. Such a discussion will be more constructive and practical. Regardless of
our political background we all have one thing in common: we all wish to live a happy life in a
good society. So perhaps we should focus on how to achieve that, rather than argue what a
happy life is and how a society should be in order for me to consider it to be good.

NOTE to fellow Academia.edu members: if you have comments and / or suggestions about my
work, and being a philosopher in general, please feel free to contact me at
olia.fjodorowa@gmail.com
Thank you!

14

6. Literature List.
-

Berlin I., [1958,1969], Two concepts of Liberty, Four Essays on Liberty, Oxford: Oxford
University Press, http://www.wiso.unihamburg.de/fileadmin/wiso_vwl/johannes/Ankuendigungen/Berlin_twoconceptsofliber
ty.pdf (checked 27 July 27, 2013)
Carter I., [2003, 2012], Positive and Negative Liberty, Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/liberty-positive-negative/ (checked 23
July 2013)
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