The New York Times has published my LTE on former University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein, a leading advocate of so-called “libertarian paternalism”.
My LTE was in response to their May 16, 2010 article in the Sunday Magazine section, “Cass Sunstein Wants to Nudge Us” praising his work as President Obama’s director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to use his philosophy to push people into behaviours the government deems desirable.
The LTE will also be appearing this weekend in the May 30, 2010 print edition of the NYT in the Sunday Magazine section (as opposed to the main letters section of the newspaper). It’s the second one down:
Cass Sunstein explicitly compares Americans to Homer Simpsons requiring government guidance to live. In my view, the proper function of government is to protect individual rights and freedoms. Unless we violate others’ rights by force or fraud, the government should leave us alone to live according to our best judgment.
Of course, individuals may voluntarily “nudge” themselves to achieve long-term goals, like having your bank automatically deposit a portion of each paycheck into a child’s college fund. But each person must make these decisions for himself based on his goals and circumstances. These choices are his responsibility and his right — not the government’s.
Libertarian paternalism in essence says, “Don’t worry — we’ll do your thinking for you.” If Americans start surrendering their minds thus to the government, they will become easy prey for demagogues and dictators.