A nudge too far: “Proposed soda ban likely to backfire”

Per the Los Angeles Times: “New research [on which more — W.O.] shows that prompting beverage makers to sell sodas in smaller packages and bundle them as a single unit actually encourages consumers to buy more soda — and gulp down more calories — than they would have consumed without the ban.”

I’ve done a new Cato podcast with interviewer Caleb Brown discussing Cass Sunstein’s attempts (channeling the behavioral economics literature) to distinguish a softer, less threatening “paternalism of means” from a bossy, intrusive “paternalism of ends.” I don’t think the distinction really works in practice, but as usual with Sunstein’s work, it’s at least worth hearing out. I go on to recommend the work of Joshua Wright and Douglas Ginsburg challenging the new behavioral economics, and suggest that while the scholars of the behavioral economics school do make some headway in showing that private choice is fallible and mistake-ridden, they are less successful at showing that trained experts can improve on these choices without touching off new unintended consequences.


  • Regulations such as the one proposed by Mayor Bloomberg do nothing to change behaviors or teach people about healthy lifestyles. Only education about diet and exercise can do that. This ban would do nothing to reduce obesity. All it would do is eliminate choices for consumers and disproportionately hurt small businesses.

  • […] Mark White’s new book The Manipulation of Choice: Ethics and Libertarian Paternalism. Related here. […]