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Choice, Exit, and Paternalism

Social Philosophy & Policy (2025), 43(2).

Libertarian paternalism focuses on paternalizing agents refraining from making welfare-reducing choices costly for the paternalized individual. Yet viewed from the perspective of the paternalized individual, individuals often have a choice that the paternalizing agent has little control over—exiting the paternalizing agent’s influence. Consequently, some of what makes libertarian paternalism so attractive to many people—that the paternalized individual can choose to avoid the welfare increasing option—can be found in standard paternalism as well. The question then shifts to how costly is it for the paternalized individual to choose the welfare-reducing option, and this is one aspect of how objectionable a paternalistic intervention is. Thus, from the perspective of the individual being paternalized, the less costly the exit choice, the less objectionable the paternalism is, ceteris paribus, regardless of where the choice comes from and who is offering it.

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