Review of Behavioral Economics > Vol 5 > Issue 3-4

Future Imperfect: Behavioral Economics and Government Paternalism

Julian Le Grand, London School of Economics, UK,
Suggested Citation
Julian Le Grand (2018), "Future Imperfect: Behavioral Economics and Government Paternalism", Review of Behavioral Economics: Vol. 5: No. 3-4, pp 281-290.

Publication Date: 31 Dec 2018
© 2018 J. Le Grand
Behavioral Economics


Open Access

This is published under the terms of CC-BY.

In this article:
1. Types of Paternalism 
2. Government Paternalism: A Utilitarian Defense 
3. Government Paternalism: A Contractarian Defense 
4. Conclusion 


Economists and others have used the results from behavioral economics to justify paternalistic government policies, aimed at changing an individual’s behavior in the present so as to improve that individual’s well-being in the future. Examples include the automatic enrollment in pension schemes and anti-smoking measures, such as banning smoking in public places or proposals for a smoking license. But these - and the economic analyses underlying them – have been challenged on the grounds that they arbitrarily privilege one set of preferences over another. The privileged preferences include those of an ‘inner rational agent’ and those of the future over the present. This paper addresses this criticism and puts forward two new conceptions of - and justifications for – these kinds of policy.



Review of Behavioral Economics, Volume 5, Issue 3-4 Special issue Paternalism: Articles Overiew
See the other articles that are part of this special issue.