Anyone who embraces the Zero Aggression Principle against initiation of force, intimidation and fraud can legitimately call themselves libertarians. In a voluntary society everyone is free to live as they choose, from the toughest, most uncompromising rugged individualist to the neediest, most accommodating submissive codependent, and every option and variation between those two extremes.
As the great Billie Holiday once sang, ” T’aint nobody’s business if I do.”
Yet there are still those who call themselves libertarians who think they have some sort of “right” to coercively impose their will on others, even when they try to disguise their coercion as a friendly little “nudge.”
According to a recent Morningstar article too many Americans are facing retirement crises because they made poor planning choices. The article then channels Richard Thaler and Former Obama regulatory czar Cass Sunstein, those “libertarians” who wrote the book on disguised coercion called Nudge.
From the article: “They argue that governments should engage in ‘libertarian paternalism’ – essentially nudging people to take the ‘correct’ course of action, while giving them the opportunity to opt out, if they so desire.”
Of course there’s no such thing as “government libertarian paternalism” nor can it possibly determine what “the correct course of action” is for each of us. When we’re “nudged” by the commentary of advertising, of marketing, of public relations we can opt out. When we’re “nudged” by bureaucratic decisions and political choices and government propaganda we can’t opt out; we’re locked in.
Libertarians asking governments to “paternalistically” coerce others isn’t libertarian, it’s authoritarian. No matter how gentle the nudge, let it happen once and the nudge becomes a jostle, the jostle becomes a shove, the shove becomes a punch, the punch becomes a bullet between the eyes.
“Government paternalism” is just a fluffy bunny euphemism for coercion. Aren’t we all “nudged” into paying taxes to perpetuate The State “for our own good?”
Anyone serious about libertarianism has to stop knee-jerk thinking “government” and start reflexively thinking “voluntary.” This should make it easy for the coercion-nudgers. All they need to do is offer their nudging as a non-government charitable or for-profit benefit to those who decide they need some nudging. Turn the nudging into a business, into a mutual aid society, into a nonprofit assistance program. People like Thaler and Sunstein ought to be smart enough to help others without sic’ing the unrestrained and uncaring power of government bureaucrats on them.
Libertarianism is about freedom and responsibility; paternalism by definition is the practice of restricting freedoms and responsibilities. Paternalism is fine for parents, not for adults coercing other adults.
Whatever Sunstein’s nudging is it isn’t libertarian.