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Professor Robert Sugden on the problems with ‘nudging’

  • Adam Smith Institute 23 Great Smith Street London, England, SW1P 3DJ United Kingdom (map)

Please note that we are at full capacity for this event and so unfortunately will not be able to reserve any more places.

Professor Robert Sugden, Professor of Economics at the University of East Anglia, will speak about his latest book—The Community of Advantage—in which he argues against paternalism in behavioural economics.

In their book Nudge, University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler and the Harvard legal scholar Cass Sunstein propose the so-called ‘libertarian paternalism’ approach to public policy-making, that has become widely popular among many policymakers and academics. The central idea is that people are prone to make mistakes in their behaviour, and that it is the job of governments to anticipate these mistakes and to guide (or ‘nudge’) citizens towards choices that are in accord with their ‘true’ preferences.

This argument runs counter to a long-standing tradition of liberal, anti-paternalistic ideas in economics. There is a growing tendency for behavioural economics to be presented as challenging, not merely the assumption that behaviour is ‘rational’, but this whole tradition of liberal economics. It presents a new justification for government intervention in people’s lives.

Robert Sugden has been a behavioural economist since the pioneering days of the 1980s. But, for even longer than that, he has been an opponent of paternalism in economics. Over the last decade, he has written a series of academic papers arguing for a different understanding of the implications of behavioural economics. He has now brought these arguments together in his new book, The Community of Advantage: A Behavioural Economist’s Defence of the Market (2018).

He is well known for his work in economic theory, the methodology of economics, and philosophy of economics. He also is the author of The Economics of Rights, Cooperation and Welfare (second edition 2004), Experimental Economics: Re-thinking the Rules (with co-authors, 2009), and many papers in leading journals of economics and philosophy.

To request a place, please email We open doors at 6pm and the talk itself will begin at 6.30pm, with a Q&A session taking place after the lecture at approximately 7:15pm.