Free to Fail? Paternalistic Preferences in the United States (with A. W. Cappelen, H. Hermes, M. Skivenes, and B. Tungodden)

  • Date: Jun 15, 2022
  • Time: 04:00 PM (Local Time Germany)
  • Speaker: Björn Bartling (University of Zurich)
  • Location: MPI
  • Room: Ground Floor

We study paternalistic preferences in two large-scale, incentivized experiments with participants sampled from the general population in the United States. Participants, acting as third-party spectators, decide whether to intervene to prevent another individual, the stakeholder, from making a mistake. We find causal evidence for the nature of the intervention being of great importance for the willingness to intervene; only about a third of the spectators intervene by restricting the stakeholder’s choices set, while a large majority intervene by providing information. In contrast, the source of the stakeholder’s mistake does not have a substantial causal effect on the willingness to intervene. We introduce a theoretical framework which allows us to classify fifty percent of the spectators as libertarian paternalists and to explore the main reasons why people are libertarian paternalists. Our results shed light on attitudes to paternalistic policies in the general population and why the idea of libertarian paternalism has gained strong support in recent years.

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