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The Paternalist Meets His Match

Jayson Lusk (), Stéphan Marette () and Bailey Norwood ()

Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, 2014, vol. 36, issue 1, 61-108

Abstract: Despite the frequent arguments that findings from behavioral economics experiments justify paternalism, there is scant evidence of how people (the paternalists) make decisions for others or how the recipients of paternalism (the paternalees) respond to decisions made for them. Using data from over 300 people recruited from two cities in the United States and France, we study how choices between a relatively healthy item (apples) and a relatively unhealthy item (cookies) are influenced by one's role as either the paternalist or the paternalee. We find that after being provided information on nutritional content, but not before, paternalists make healthier choices for the paternalees than for themselves. Surprisingly, prior to being provided information, paternalees desire healthier choices than they expect the paternalists to give, a phenomenon that seems to arise from a type of egotism where individuals believe they make healthier choices than everyone else. Results in both locations reveal that more than 75% of paternalees prefer their own choices compared to the ones made for them by the paternalists, and are willing to pay non-trivial amounts to have their own choices. Any intrinsic value people place on the freedom of choice must be weighed against whatever benefits might arise from paternalistic policies, and consequently the scope for paternalism may be narrower than is often purported.

Date: 2014
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Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy is currently edited by Timothy Park, Tomislav Vukina and Ian Sheldon

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