Open Seminar: Free to Choose or Free to Lose? Public Opinion over Government Paternalism – University of Copenhagen

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Open Seminar: Free to Choose or Free to Lose? Public Opinion over Government Paternalism

This Thursday David Dreyer Lassen, Professor at Department of Economics, UCPH, is visiting IFRO.
During lunch he will give a presentation titled Free to Choose or Free to Lose? Public Opinion over Government Paternalism.

Advances in psychology and behavioral economics have credibly identified numerous decision-making biases preventing people from acting in their own, long-run interest. This has led to calls for coercive government involvement in correcting such biased choices and revived the case for government paternalism in areas such as obesity and financial decision-making. Already, governments across the world are experimenting with regulation, often through taxes, on sugar and fat consumption, and both the Obama administration in the US and the Cameron administration in the UK explicitly tries to harness behavioral economics and psychology in nudging or lightly coercing individuals to choose differently than they would have done on their own.
Little is known, however, about public opinion on such paternalistic policies.
In the paper, I use a large-scale representative Danish survey on political opinion to characterize attitudes towards paternalistic government policies and analyze the sources of differences in such attitudes. First, I show that attitudes towards paternalism differ across domains (smoking and unhealthy food vs. economic choices) and that they are correlated with attitudes towards government redistribution and beliefs about the importance of hard work. Second, I explore how attitudes are formed by (the complicated notion of) self-interest, personality, and susceptibility to biases, captured by adverse outcomes in domains regulated by paternalistic policies. Finally, I investigate the motives behind calls for paternalism, including altruistic paternalism vs. concerns about fiscal externalities among people who are not or less subject to biases.

The presentation will be arranged in the meeting room von Langen at Rolighedsvej 23, at 12:00-13:00 on Thursday December 03 2015.

Questions can be send to Kennet Uggeldahl, PhD fellow at Departmwent of Food and Resource Economics, UCPH.