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Coercive paternalism and the intelligence continuum


Thaler and Sunstein advocate ‘libertarian paternalism’. A libertarian paternalist changes the conditions under which people act so that their cognitive biases lead them to choose what is best for themselves. Although libertarian paternalism manipulates people, Thaler and Sunstein say that it respects their autonomy by preserving the possibility of choice. Conly argues that libertarian paternalism does not go far enough, since there is no compelling reason why we should allow people the opportunity to choose to bring disaster upon themselves if sometimes they will make the wrong decision. She defends ‘coercive paternalism’. The present paper argues that errors in reasoning are not due only to cognitive biases. People also make errors because they have an insufficient level of general intelligence. Intelligence is distributed on a continuum. Those who fall on higher levels of the continuum have greater abilities, in certain contexts, to reason about both their own and others’ interests. Coercive paternalism may sometimes be appropriate to prevent less intelligent people from engaging in self-destructive behavior due to errors of reasoning.

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*Correspondence to: Nathan Cofnas. Email:
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Behavioural Public Policy
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