In recent years, there has been a great deal of debate about the ethical questions associated with “nudges,” understood as approaches that steer people in certain directions while fully maintaining freedom of choice. Evidence about people’s views cannot resolve the ethical questions, but in democratic societies, those views will inevitably affect what governments are willing to do. Existing evidence, including a nationally representative survey conducted for this essay, supports five general conclusions. First, there is widespread support for nudges, at least of the kind that democratic societies have adopted or seriously considered in the recent past. Second, the support diminishes when people fear that because of inertia and inattention, citizens might end up with outcomes that they do not like. Third, there appears to be mildly greater support for nudges that appeal to conscious, deliberative thinking than for nudges that affect subconscious or unconscious processing. Fourth, people’s assessment of nudges in general will be greatly affected by the political valence of the particular nudges that they have in mind. Fifth, transparency about nudging will not, in general, reduce the effectiveness of nudges, because most nudges are already transparent, and because people will not, in general, rebel against nudges.
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