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The Power to Nudge



Nudging policies rely on behavioral science to improve people's decisions through small changes in the environments within which people make choices. This article first seeks to rebut a prominent objection to this approach: furnishing governments with the power to nudge leads to relations of alien control, that is, relations in which some people can impose their will on others—a concern which resonates with republican, Kantian, and Rousseauvian theories of freedom and relational theories of autonomy. I respond that alien control can be avoided, if nudging is suitably transparent and democratically controlled. Moreover, such transparency and democratic control are institutionally feasible. Building on this response, I then provide a novel and surprising argument for more nudging: democratically controlled public policy nudging can often contain the power of private companies to nudge in uncontrolled and opaque ways. Therefore, reducing alien control often requires more rather than less nudging in public policy.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the same Creative Commons licence is included and the original work is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use.

Corresponding author

Andreas T. Schmidt is Assistant Professor, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen, Oude Boteringestraat 52, 9712 GL Groningen, The Netherlands (


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I would like to thank Mark Budolfson, Luc Bovens, Cameron Langford, Alecia McGregor, and four referees for helpful comments and discussions.



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