Consent Of The Nudged

Steve Teles worries about it in his review of Cass Sunstein’s Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism, asserting that “for a book supposedly on the politics of libertarian paternalism, there is very little here on the core of politics, which is principally about the mobilization of consent”:

Sunstein says nothing about how his favored range of interventions can be expected to generate the power necessary to overcome the opposition one would expect from changes sufficient to alter significant social outcomes. Why? Because it is fairly obvious that you will not get masses of ordinary Americans flooding the streets with signs saying, “Nudge Me!” or “Stop Me Before I Snack Again!” The liberalism of nudgers is a recipe for an unmobilized citizenry, not only because these sorts of interventions are unlikely to attract citizens to ensure their enactment, but also because their relatively low-profile, under-the-radar quality will attract, at best, modest interest group support from professional nudgers and those who stand to be economically advantaged by the nudge in question. The more liberalism seeks its ends through nudging, the more it both depends upon and generates a prostrate citizenry—one insufficiently mobilized to actually challenge deep structural inequalities, let alone to explicitly recognize who has leased its consent.