Choice Architecture in Democracies – Behavioural Economics Meets Constitutional Law. Verfassungsblog Conference, January 13/14, 2015, Berlin

“Nudging” is all the rage in German government. The concept of designing choice architectures for consumers was developed by University of Chicago economist Richard H. Thaler and Harvard Law School Professor Cass R. Sunstein in their 2008 book “Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness”.  Heiko Maas, the Federal Minister of Justice, last month ran a conference with Cass Sunstein on the art of nudging and Angela Merkel, the chancellor, recently hired a bunch of behavioural economists to help her design better policies. Verfassungsblog, Germany’s blawg on matters constitutional, has organized an interdisciplinary conference on the topic. It kicks off with a lecture by Cass Sunstein tonight.

The two-day conference will explore whether “nudging”, Sunstein and Thaler’s “controversial concept of libertarian paternalism”, is a modern and efficient tool of governance or a dangerous attack on freedom and individual autonomy. Verfassungsblog is planning to live-stream the conference, and abstracts of conference papers have already been posted on the blog.

In dispute resolution, the trend has been in many jurisdictions to create incentives, i.e. “nudges”, to move from litigation in state courts to various forms of alternative dispute resolution. “Nudging” and the theories on which it is based should help us to understand which of these incentives are going to work, and how. And the Verfassungsblog conference and the discussion it has started in this country should help us understand the legitimacy of and boundaries for such policies.

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