Libertarian paternalism, governance and society: Are we disconnected from reality?

Samuel Glen*

Brisbane, 22 May 2015 (Alochonaa): I am concerned. I am concerned that we are heading toward a form of governance and society that makes life in the developed world far too easy. Yes, we are blessed to live in a time of the world where technology, medicine and many fundamental services are more readily available to many more people in the world than any other time in history. This is true, although some would think it’s rather a bold and daring claim to make with so much deprivation that still exists in the world. Let me continue.

The world isn’t fully polarized. Rather, we are all rising together. At least, that is what I hope. But those of us in the developed world will hardly even feel the disparities to begin with. We are, in a sense, senseless to deprivation. Or, deprived of deprivation. And the recent swell in support for ‘nudges’ is setting us along a path of even greater de-sensitivity to otherness and real deprivation.

The notion of the ‘nudge’ is not only to make life easier for those in the developed world, but can also become the tool through which we become disconnected from reality[i]. When decisions are made for us, and where we forget to connect with those around us, we in essence come to forget. This is true of people in whatever situation you live in. If you expect other people to remind you and make your decisions for you, you will become a docile creature that always needs to be ‘nudged’. Ironically, consider this your ‘nudge’.

Polarisation effects are in force, but so are nudge tactics. Both are leading us down a path that removes us from a reality where we actually need to be present, connected and concerned to make a difference. Nudge tactics, or libertarian paternalism, are essentially an acceptance of the fact that people are disconnected, and will not act unless guided by someone else to do so, which in this case, would be the government, a business or an NGO. For those of you not familiar with the concept of the ‘nudge’, see here).

The fundamental problem as I see it is this. While we are expending all efforts toward making life faster, easier and convenient for those of us in the developed world, we are forgetting the hardship, malnutrition, sickness and disease that is riddling the less-fortunate, both within our own world, and those far distant from us. We are no longer in the present moment of reality, connected to those around us who are in need, but expectant of a government and society to make things easier for us because ‘we need it’.

We need to be ‘nudged’ in the right direction because we ‘don’t know what’s best for ourselves’.

Can I be so bold to say: ‘WE DON’T NEED IT! WE ARE LAZY!’

While we’re here discussing ‘libertarian paternalism’, being so self-centred and anxious to make our own lives better, faster and easier, we are becoming detached from the dangers and privation that are crippling the rest of the world, that we forget the fact that we live in the same world as everyone else, alongside those who are struggling (believe it or not). Do we need to be ‘nudged’ to be reminded of this? In what kind of distant reality does the idea of a ‘nudge’ even need to be a ‘thing’? Not one that I’d like to live in.

While I’m not completely against the idea of a ‘nudge’[ii], I do, however, think that we do need to be extremely cautious about where we are heading as a society (globally and locally), when we need to be ‘nudged’ before we will ‘act’. Let me get personal for a minute. While I type this on my Macbook Air, frequently check my ‘likes’ on Facebook, and sit here so comfortably on my couch, I come to realize that there is another world out there, and that I only play one small part in it. But, can I be so removed from that fact that I will need constant ‘nudges’ reminding me? I sure hope not. This could be my own personal guilt coming out. It could just be my own personal call to action. Wanting to do more for the good of society and our global peoples, but can only help in a way that I know how. To be able to make a change in one person’s life, will be to make the world simultaneously a better and smaller place, because we will be actually connected together in this shared reality: the present, now, the one that we have in common. Is that not a great idea?

For me, the question now is, to what extent is it ok to ‘nudge’ people towards a ‘good’ decision to make for themselves?; Does this have an impact on how they relate to society?; What solution is there that will enable people to be connected with reality and make a difference for good versus expecting the world to be ‘easier for them’? Shall we be the deprived of deprivation generation, or will we struggle for something more real and rewarding for all of us? This is not a call to action, but just a ‘nudge’. Something to think about.

[i] I mean this reality in the sense that we all share. While our realities may be different, from one person to another, the developing world to the developed world. The sense that I use reality in this article means being detached and aloof from the present time and situation. Thanks to Mubashar Hasan for pointing this out.

[ii] It has been proven to help people make better health and life decisions where in some case some people may not be able to do so for themselves.

*Samuel Glen is editor- religion and society for

** is not responsible for any factual mistakes (if any) of this analysis. This analysis further is not necessarily representative of’s view. We’re happy to facilitate further evidence-based submissions on this topic. Please send us your submission at

Categories: government

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