Escaping Paternalism Wins the Szasz Prize!
By Bryan Caplan
This July-September, I ran a book club on Rizzo and Whitman’s magisterial Escaping Paternalism. Now I’m pleased to announce that Rizzo and Whitman have won a much-deserved Szasz Prize for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties. From the prize announcement:
The professional Szasz award goes to Mario J. Rizzo, a professor of economics at New York University, and Glen Whitman, a professor of economics at California State University, Northridge. Their book Escaping Paternalism: Rationality, Behavioral Economics, and Public Policy was described by economist-blogger Bryan Caplan as “an unbelievably learned, thoughtful, fair, wise, and inspired critique of applied behavioral economics in general and libertarian paternalism (a.k.a. “nudge”) in particular.”
Casual readers may wonder, “What on Earth does Escaping Paternalism have to do with civil liberties?”
The answer: Paternalism is a top – possibly the top – argument for violating civil liberties. Do you really want to let people go to hell in their own way? Left to their own devices, lots of people will. So what should we do about the rest? Force them to do the right thing for their own good, of course.
This is a classic Christian argument against religious toleration: Coercion can save heretics from hellfire. And the same goes for the metaphorical hells of drug addiction, obesity, alcoholism, impulsivity, etc. By exposing the deep intellectual flaws of paternalism, Rizzo and Whitman ipso facto stand up for individuals’ freedom to live their own lives in their own way.
As a former Szasz prize winner myself, I’m delighted to welcome Rizzo and Whitman to the club. Bravo.
P.S. If you’re unfamiliar with Szasz’s mind-bending work, start here.