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A little give and take

Oliver, Adam (2021) A little give and take. LSE Public Policy Review. ISSN 2633-4046 (In Press)

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In this article, I contend that the behavioural effects that tend to be labelled as errors by most behavioural economists, and as such have served as the justification for a paternalistic direction in behavioural public policy (i.e. policy intervention that aims to protect people from imposing harms on themselves), are in an ecological sense not errors at all. While acknowledging that modern societies are very different from the types of societies in which these effects evolved, I argue that we still cannot conclude that attempts to modify people’s choices in accordance with these so-called errors will improve the lives of those targeted for behaviour change, particularly given the varied and multifarious private objectives and desires that people pursue. Where people are imposing no substantive harms on others, I maintain that policy makers should restrict themselves to protecting and fostering the fundamental motivational force of reciprocity, which serves to benefit the group (which could be the whole society) and, by extension, most of the people who comprise the group, irrespective of their own personal desires in life. However, when one party to any particular exchange actively uses the behavioural affects to benefit themselves but imposes harms on the other party to the exchange, the concept of a free and fair reciprocal exchange has been violated. In these circumstances, there is an intellectual justification to introduce behavioural-informed regulations – a form of negative reciprocity – against activities that impose unacceptable harms on others. My arguments thus call for behavioural public policy to preserve individual autonomy within an overarching policy framework that nurtures reciprocity whilst at the same time regulates against behavioural-informed practices that impose substantive harms on others, rather than focusing on reducing the harms that people supposedly impose on themselves. This would be a major switch in emphasis for one of the most important developments in public policy in modern times.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2021 The Author
Divisions: Social Policy
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Date Deposited: 06 Aug 2021 09:15
Last Modified: 13 Nov 2021 00:14

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