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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.

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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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
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