Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10419/262358
Authors: 
Braganza, Oliver
Year of Publication: 
2022
Series/Report no.: 
ifso working paper No. 23
Publisher: 
University of Duisburg-Essen, Institute for Socio-Economics (ifso), Duisburg
Abstract: 
Modern societies, almost unequivocally, pursue the goal of economic growth. The central normative reason for this has recently been called the 'consumerist claim', namely the standard economic claim that increases in consumption (i.e. growth), by and large entail welfare increases. However, the consumerist claim does not take account of behavioral economics. Specifically, it disregards that consumption increases can also be achieved by nudging, as practiced e.g. in marketing or advertising. Remarkably, proponents of the consumerist claim are often vocal critics of governmental nudging, which is decried as manipulative and paternalistic, but are simultaneously dismissive or apologetic about market-derived nudging. Here we argue, that in light of behavioral economics Adam Smiths 'invisible hand' will often produce outcomes as if it belonged to an 'invisible paternalist', who systematically and efficiently nudges individuals towards ever increasing consumption. Specifically, we develop the notion of 'market paternalism' (MP), based on a synthesis of behavioral and evolutionary economic reasoning. MP entails three central properties: First, unregulated markets naturally give rise to pervasive nudges, modifying our behavior, preferences and beliefs in ways beyond our conscious awareness and control. Second, these nudges will coalesce towards an emergent system-level end, that cannot be derived from any coherent notion of individual preferences. Third, MP operates in part by a cultural evolutionary mechanism, implying that it will occur with computational and coordinative power far beyond any individual (or government). To assess the potential practical relevance of MP, we survey the literature, finding clear evidence that MP drives or exacerbates numerous pressing societal problems, including rampant obesity, mass surveillance and the climate crisis. It does so by covertly and incessantly nudging not only our behavior, but also our preferences, values and beliefs towards the single goal of increasing consumption. The surprising consequence is that, in light of behavioral economics, unregulated markets should be expected to systematically subvert individual autonomy and rationality, the very values typically invoked to defend the consumerist claim.
Creative Commons License: 
cc-by Logo
Document Type: 
Working Paper

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