From the New York Review of Books, Obama’s Regulatory Czar Cass “Our-Wish-Is-Your-Command” Sunstein writes a wonderful piece on a book title “Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism”:
Many Americans abhor paternalism. They think that people should be able to go their own way, even if they end up in a ditch. When they run risks, even foolish ones, it isn’t anybody’s business that they do.
The whole piece is a justification for coercion, as the title says, and a justification for destroying individual citizens’ rights to live their own lives. This is an anointed elite deciding that he will change the world so that his will can be forced onto you, the disgusting inferior thing that can’t make good decisions.
This is Orwellian newspeak tyranny used to create a Huxleyan Brave New World where the only life available is the one that the master decides.
For example, many of us show “present bias”: we tend to focus on today and neglect tomorrow. For some people, the future is a foreign country, populated by strangers. Many of us procrastinate and fail to take steps that would impose small short-term costs but produce large long-term gains. People may, for example, delay enrolling in a retirement plan, starting to diet or exercise, ceasing to smoke, going to the doctor, or using some valuable, cost-saving technology. Present bias can ensure serious long-term harm, including not merely economic losses but illness and premature death as well.
People also have a lot of trouble dealing with probability.
Translation: You’re stupid and short sighted and need to be dominated.
Emphasizing these and related behavioral findings, many people have been arguing for a new form of paternalism, one that preserves freedom of choice, but that also steers citizens in directions that will make their lives go better by their own lights. (Full disclosure: the behavioral economist Richard Thaler and I have argued on behalf of what we call libertarian paternalism, known less formally as “nudges.”)
The amount of contempt I have for Cass Sunstein at this point is difficult to convey without using colorful metaphors.
Liberal used to mean that one favored liberty, it favored the greatest amount of freedom. Somehow liberal has come to mean an expansion of the state. Here, word-twisting corruptor of truth Cass Sunstein says there is “libertarian paternalism”, which goes into his idea of “choice architecture”. He, the almighty anointed dominator of men, simply changes the rules so the only choices are state-approved choices. There is the illusion of choice, but there is none.
It has nothing to do with liberal, liberty, or libertarian. It has everything to do with twisting words and changing the language so that evil deeds can be couched in what used to be good words.
This is even more sinister because it deletes alternatives – it reduces choices and then convinces people they have the freedom to choose. It creates willing slavery. Do you want to work in the field or the house? They’re both “good for you”.
And those are your two choices.
Default rules are merely one kind of “choice architecture,” a phrase that may refer to the design of grocery stores, for example, so that the fresh vegetables are prominent; the order in which items are listed on a restaurant menu; visible official warnings; public education campaigns; the layout of websites; and a range of other influences on people’s choices. Such examples suggest that mildly paternalistic approaches can use choice architecture in order to improve outcomes for large numbers of people without forcing anyone to do anything.
Just slowly dissolve the “bad” choices until the master conveys his will to the serf.
You want to smoke? Tax it, reduce the places you can smoke, ban it outright, then the “good” choice is made. Individual choice is meaningless – the master has made his decision.
You want to own a gun? Tax it, reduce the places you can shoot, increase the regulations and restrictions on where you can and when you can use it and own it, make it a difficult right to exercise, and then ban it, and the “good” choice is made. Individual choice is meaningless – the master has made his decision and enforces his will.
You want to have sex? Make it shameful, make one type acceptable, another type not. Increase the social stigma, create blue laws and the like, and then only the “good” choice is left, so only the “good” choice can be made. Individual choice is meaningless – the master has made his decision and the only choices left to the serf are to do as the master wishes.
For another example of “choice architecture” and the destruction of choice a bit more specifically, Thomas Sowell often notes that he and his wife didn’t have the money to pay for the birth of their first child, so the hospital put them on a payment plan for services. He joked with his wife when the bill was paid that they finally owned their child. Destruction of private health care options and mandating insurance drove prices up and took away the option to simply pay the hospitals directly. Replacing direct payment with health insurance and created higher costs, but it mandated “good”. Replacing optional health insurance with mandatory employer health care created higher costs, but mandated “good”. The “good” of single payer has been created as other choices that worked better for individuals were slowly deleted.
Conly is quite aware that her view runs up against widespread intuitions and commitments. For many people, a benefit may consist precisely in their ability to choose freely even if the outcome is disappointing. She responds that autonomy is “not valuable enough to offset what we lose by leaving people to their own autonomous choices.”
Your right to live your own life isn’t valuable. Your freedom isn’t valuable. Your freedom to live your own life means you might not make all the best decisions, so you must be dominated into the correct decisions. Subtly, but you will bow to the master.
To Mill’s claim that individuals are uniquely well situated to know what is best for them, Conly objects that Mill failed to make a critical distinction between means and ends. True, people may know what their ends are, but sometimes they go wrong when they choose how to get them. Most people want to be healthy and to live long lives. If people are gaining a lot of weight, and hence jeopardizing their health, Conly supports paternalism—for example, she favors reducing portion size for many popular foods, on the theory that large, fattening servings can undermine people’s own goals. In her words, paternalism is justified when
the person left to choose freely may choose poorly, in the sense that his choice will not get him what he wants in the long run, and is chosen solely because of errors in instrumental reasoning.Because of her focus on the means to the ends people want, Conly’s preferred form of paternalism is far more modest than imaginable alternatives.
At the same time, Conly insists that mandates and bans can be much more effective than mere nudges. If the benefits justify the costs, she is willing to eliminate freedom of choice, not to prevent people from obtaining their own goals but to ensure that they do so.
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY.
Conly is right to insist that no democratic government can or should live entirely within Mill’s strictures. But in my view, she underestimates the possibility that once all benefits and all costs are considered, we will generally be drawn to approaches that preserve freedom of choice. One reason involves the bluntness of coercive paternalism and the sheer diversity of people’s tastes and situations. Some of us care a great deal about the future, while others focus intensely on today and tomorrow. This difference may make perfect sense in light not of some bias toward the present, but of people’s different economic situations, ages, and valuations. Some people eat a lot more than others, and the reason may not be an absence of willpower or a neglect of long-term goals, but sheer enjoyment of food. Our ends are hardly limited to longevity and health; our short-term goals are a large part of what makes life worth living.
According to him. He will decide what your life is worth.
All of this is contrary to natural law, all of this is contrary to the dignity and rights of mankind. Of course the tyrants love it, though.
From a practical standpoint, there’s also this:
True, people may know what their ends are, but sometimes they go wrong when they choose how to get them. Most people want to be healthy and to live long lives. If people are gaining a lot of weight, and hence jeopardizing their health, Conly supports paternalism—for example, she favors reducing portion size for many popular foods, on the theory that large, fattening servings can undermine people’s own goals.
Sunstein’s shared view with Conly that food must be controlled because people are too stupid to eat what’s good for them fails not only because it insults the individual (and no amount of his weaseling changes what his intent is); but also because from a purely practical standpoint, deprivation leads to binges, denial leads to excess. There are some nutritionists who’ve outlined this quite clearly – one of the reasons that diets fail is because people deprive themselves and don’t eat what their body wants them to – eating either too little or too much.
Case and point, somebody who eats 1556-calorie meals:
When there’s an authority figure engineering your choices – even when it’s your own mind through a diet, you tend not to respond so well. The human body doesn’t want to starve itself, and doesn’t like it when it’s forced to starve itself. The body responds no matter what the mind wants.
At the point that she decides not to try to control everything, she can just eat a burger without caring, without budgeting calories, and just eating when it’s right.
The soft tyranny of paternalism, manipulation of language, and destruction of free will ultimately lead to destruction of the individual – like all leftist plots, it requires more and more power and domination and subjugation to succeed. That’s the only way it can succeed in its own goals – and at that point, the master has decided that slavery is for your own good.