Some Noodging about Nudging

The British experience had taught the Framers that there was no way to force those with political power to respect the rights of individuals and act only for the common good. Hence, the best that they could do would be to create a political choice architecture that would nudge them in that direction. The separation of federal power among the three branches, the division of power between the state and federal governments, and the enumeration of a limited set of powers for the federal government were all designed to make it less likely that the political decision makers in the new government would engage in the type of oppressive or biased decisions that gave rise to the American revolution. Surely, this is the most famous example of choice architecture the world has ever known. So, perhaps the Founding Fathers were prototypical behavioral economists. If so, they were not notably successful ones. Given the massive growth and biased use of federal power between 1789 and today, one can only hope that the current generation of nudgers is more successful than its intellectual forebears.

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