Homo Oeconomicus 32(2): 275-286 (2015)
© 2015 Accedo Verlagsgesellschaft, München.
ISBN 978-3-89265-118-5 ISSN 0943-0180
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Paternalism, Gamification, or Art:
An Introductory Note
Manfred J. Holler
University of Hamburg, Center of Conflict Resolution (CCR), and Institute of
Abstract: This introductory note is about nudges, Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a
Staircase No. 2” and his readymades, and slippery slopes. The point of departure is
an art project called Kunstimbiss. This project has an educational dimension and
invites an interpretation in terms of libertarian paternalism. However, there is also a
playfulness with the Kunstimbiss. Is it an object of gamification? This feature will
be further examined referring to Marcel Duchamp, his work and concept of art.
JEL Codes: A11, B40, B41,
Keywords: Kunstimbiss, libertarian paternalism, nudges, Marcel Duchamp, ready-
made, gamification, slippery slope.
1. The Kunstimbiss
“At first glance Kunstimbiss appears unpretentious as a fry joint or a food-
truck. In the evening it is a luminous contact point, which can be seen from
a distance. Placed in public space, in vacant lots, or in the middle of the
town, the visitors encounter a wide range of different artworks. More than
100 artists are connected to the project. Inside of the fry joint their works
can be seen, stories about the works are told, sometimes told by the artists
themselves, when they are occasionally on the spot.” This description I owe
to Katharina Kohl who created this project together with DG Reiss in 2005.
In general, at least one of them is present to answer questions of visitors
attracted (or trapped) by the Kunstimbiss. The two artists made this
Homo Oeconomicus 32(2)
“ambulatory art provisioning” work ever since despite the fact that their first
coach was as a victim of an “unspecified attack,” burnt down in the middle
of the night on June 27, 2011. So far this crime has not been solved and is
not likely to be solved ever. A picture of the substitute you find on the cover
of this issue.
Katharina Kohl and DG Reiss are Hamburg-based but also took the
Kunstimbiss to Berlin, Bremen, and smaller places in the wider vicinity. In
general, the Kunstimbiss gets hired by communal agencies and remunerated
by the hours or the days. Prices are kept at a moderate level, and revenues
from sales of art go to the artists without any percentages for the
Kunstimbiss or contributions to its costs and maintenance. Some artists
however give donations to the Kunstimbiss project. The motivation of the
public contractee is to familiarize citizens with art who are somewhat
alienated from it. From this perspective, the Kunstimbiss can be classified
as educational project. As such its services can be seen as a realization of
public paternalism (or as an activity to demonstrate partnership with the
Section 2 discusses the paternalistic interpretation of the Kunstimbiss in
detail. Section 3 deals with the moral dimension of nudging. Gamification
and its appeal to homo ludens is recognized as special form of nudging.
Gamification is an important dimension of modern art. Section 4 illustrates
the inherent playing with expectations in Duchamp’s oeuvre and relates it
to the Kunstimbiss. The concluding section 5 summarizes basic concepts of
paternalism to prepare for the five contributions that follow this
introductory note, discussing the “consent dilemma” inherent to libertarian
2. On paternalism and choices
Katharina Kohl and DG Reiss are artists and thus a viable hypothesis should
be that the Kunstimbiss is an object of art. We will come back to this
hypothesis in the sequel. But let us first focus on the dimension of
paternalism as it summarizes the general view brought forward when
discussing the Kunstimbiss. Paternalism assumes an authority that tries to
influence the behavior of people under its guidance in order to improve the
wellbeing of the latter. This can be implemented by more or less strict
regulations limiting the set of alternatives to choose from and thus reducing
the freedom of choice. Alternatively, “libertarian paternalism” does not
constrain the freedom of choice but takes advantage of the imperfections in
decision-making abilities to push people to make choices that are good for
For gamification, see the Call for Papers on the last pages of this issue.
M.J. Holler: Paternalism, Gamification, or Art
This kind of pushing people is called “nudging” and a means of pushing
people this way is called a “nudge.” Those who get nudged are sometimes
called “nudgees,” and “nudgers” are those who “nudge.” When it comes to
paternalism then the nudger is an authority, the State, the parents, etc.
While, in principle, paternalism proper is coercive, nudging leaves the
nudgee’s set of alternatives unchanged. Thus, nudging is a means to achieve
the authority’s ends without, in principle, restricting the freedom of choice
of decision makers, but make the decision makers decide what the authority
is in fact aiming for. Paternalism based on nudging is also referred to as
“soft paternalism.” Whitman and Rizzo (2007) elaborate on the warning of
a “slippery slope” that leads from soft paternalism to “hard paternalism,” a
non-libertarian paternalism implying regulations, legal constraints, and a
reduction of freedom of choice, and thus represents a threat to their
libertarian worldview. They write “soft
has the po
to pave the way for harder
disapprove. We conclude that
ought to be
suggest” (Whitman and Rizzo 2007: 413).
In order to emphasize the dynamics of the slippery slope hypothesis they
use the label “new paternalism” (Rizzo and Whitman 2009) somehow
indicating that so far we have no experience with a paternalism that relies
on nudging. It seems that they are prepared to call libertarian paternalism
Frequently, however, we observe that the slippery slope
works into quite the opposite direction. Politicians delegate decisions that
were once qualified as “political,” subject to parliamentary discussion and
decision making, to experts, thereby shifting the responsibility from their
doorstep or eliminating it altogether. If the experts are members of the
academic arena, then the result receives the glory of science which tends to
impress people – the scientific wrap tends to be a successful nudge as its
application in advertising demonstrates. It can also work as an instrument
of obfuscation (see below). Alternatively, politicians delegate their
decisions to the market shifting the responsibility to the “invisible hand” –
even in areas, like the banking sector, where Adam Smith (the “father of
invisible hand”) suggested rigorous regulation.
This refers to the quite influential paper by Sunstein and Thaler (2003) entitled
“Libertarian Paternalism Is Not an
in which the two authors argue
that it is possible to steer people's choices in
reducing their freedom of choice. They also discuss the “slippery slope” issue and
argue that “those who
the slippery slope argument are acknowledging the
existence of a self-control problem, at least for planners. But if planners, including
bureaucrats and human resource managers, suffer from self-control problems,
then it is highly likely that other people do too” (Sunstein and Thaler (2003: 1199f).
Homo Oeconomicus 32(2)
Note, even nudging is delegated to experts giving jobs and relevance to
behavioral economists who, little by little, substitute the legal advisors who
dominated the public policy arena. However, this necessitates further
research and a redirection of funding. Allcott and Mullainathan (2010:
1205) maintain that “criteria for funding of…behavioral research should be
similar to those for allocating resources to engineering and ‘hard science’
research. In those domains, promising technologies are theory driven;
similarly successful behavioral interventions have typically drawn on
existing theoretical and empirical work.”
Not all cases of nudging imply paternalism. Paternalism assumes an
authority that aims to improve the wellbeing of its clients. Of course, there
is the problem of how to identify this wellbeing if it does not derive from
the behavior of the clients – even contradicting of what the clients decide
without the guidance of a paternalistic authority? Is there a need for a
consensus in a society to answer the questions of what constitutes the
wellbeing and who decides on measure to take care of it? Alain Marciano’s
note and the comments by Mark White, Alison Cool, Antoinette Baujard
and Richard Sturn, all in this issue, discuss this question.
Thaler and Sunstein (2008: 5) define a policy as paternalistic “if it tries
to influence choices in a way that will make choosers better off, as judged
by themselves.” This promotes the very same people to judges of their
wellbeing who are assumed to be incompetent in shaping their choices to
maximize their wellbeing. This definition implies that my parents were not
paternalistic when they sent me to school. Because, judged by myself, this
did not make me better off, on the contrary. Of course, this was not
libertarian either because it reduced my choice set tremendously then. I will
not further add to this general discussion of how to justify paternalistic
interventions, but emphasize that the authority’s target to advance the
wellbeing of the other(s) is an essential element of paternalism – however,
If we apply the concept of paternalism to the Kunstimbiss then the
authority that intends to enhance the well-being of its cliental seems to be
easy to identify: the agencies of the communities and their representatives
who hire the Kunstimbiss. But can we identify Katharina Kohl and DG Reiss
and the artists that contribute their objects at very moderate prices and
favorable conditions also as paternalists? Perhaps there is some nudging. Is
it a case of libertarian paternalism? The public authorities are not even
visible to the passerby and nobody is forced to come closer and look at the
objects. By and large, the Kunstimbiss uses, in the first step, camouflage
and, in the second step, appeals to the curiosity of people. As people can
stop at any stage to get further involved in the Kunstimbiss, their freedom
of choice, as measured by the alternatives they can control, remains
M.J. Holler: Paternalism, Gamification, or Art
But are they still as free to choose as before after they were
seduced to approach the Kunstimbiss?
Textbooks suggest that, in order to enhance the wellbeing of the people,
the libertarian paternalist makes use of the very same phenomena that hinder
people to get their best to enhance their wellbeing. In the standard model,
these phenomena are cognitive defects in the identification of decision
situations, misinterpretations of environmental conditions and irrelevant
alternatives and misjudgment of one’s own capacity to act. Numerous
experimental studies and empirical observations showed that the pro and
cons of a decision strongly depends on conditions that are not relevant for a
rational decision maker. For instance, let us assume that Mr. X gets an opera
ticket as birthday present and we offer him 100 Euro for it. He rejects our
offer. Let us assume that Mr. X gets 100 Euro as a birthday present, will he
pay the very same ticket? Experiments show that he might not even buy
such a ticket at the price of 80 Euro.
This phenomenon has been labeled the endowment effect, but there are
many other such paradoxical phenomena.
Many of them demonstrate that
decisions depend on the framing of the decision problem. Even physicians
might favor chemotherapy to radio therapy when treating cancer if the
comparison is framed by the mortality rate, p, instead of the survival
probability, 1-p (Kahneman und Tversky 1979). The libertarian paternalist
makes use of such deviations from rationality to frame the decision situation
such that the decision maker will be allured to choose the alternative that is
to his or her best. He is a designer of private decision situations – in terms
of Thaler and Sunstein, a “choice architect.”
The basic assumption of libertarian paternalism is that addressees are not
able to make the “right decisions,“ i.e., furthering their wellbeing without a
little nudge in the right direction. Supporters stress the libertarian aspect that
nobody is forced to give in to the nudging: the freedom of choice is
maintained. Critics point to the manipulative aspect and argue that the
addressee has hardly a choice to reject the propositions of the paternalist if
the latter has sufficient means to shape the decision situation
correspondingly – in the extreme case, to appeal to basic instincts like the
ludic drive to overcome the resistance of the decision maker to choose his
For a discussion of freedom of choice, see Klemisch-Ahlert (1993), Pattanaik and
Xu (1990), Sen (1988), and Sudgen (1998).
Hausman and Welch (2010: 125f) give a list which is based on their reading of
Thaler and Sunstein (2008): optimism and overconfidence, loss aversion, status quo
bias, akrasia and myopia, inattention and error, anchoring, availability, and
Homo Oeconomicus 32(2)
3. Gamification and its moral dimension
How can we rely on the underlying consensus that justifies paternalism in a
libertarian society if individual decisions are manipulable? Doesn’t
manipulability also apply when it comes to forming the consensus? Alain
Marciano (in this volume) points out this fundamental problem that
libertarian paternalism faces. Obviously, justifying paternalism with
reference to a consensus that is based on individual preferences is self-
referential: “there is no truth in it.”
The manipulative aspects is particularly
noticeable if the paternalist applies gamification strategies offering the
decision problem as a move and the “superior outcome” as a possible result
of a game. If the game is adequately designed, from the perspective of the
paternalist, the decisions will bring about the intended outcome, irrespective
of whether this result corresponds to decision maker’s preferences or
desires, if it is the winning alternative.
Thaler und Sunstein (2008) give the example of drawings of bees
adorning the urinals in the toilets of Schiphol International Airport at
Amsterdam. The aim of this decoration was to reduce the soiling of these
locations. In fact, the bees motivated a better targeting and cleaning costs
decreased. Obviously, gamification worked. However, it is not obvious that
the wellbeing of the addressees increased. We can assume that some of them
enjoyed the bee game, but many were perhaps not even aware of the nudge
they went through. Most likely, the major of benefits went to the toilet
operator that experienced a cost cut. Private benefits from nudging and
nudging in order to increase private benefits are rather common: it is an
essential dimension of advertising. Hausman and Welch (2010: 131)
observe: “What makes the cacophony of invocation of irrational responses
by non-governmental agents tolerable (to the extent that it is tolerable)
are…the limits to its effectiveness and the extent to which these invocations
conflict with one another and cancel one another out.” A problem with
“libertarian paternalism” is that the nudges are produced and controlled by
a monopoly which is hardly ever balanced by competitive offers. Of course,
this monopoly position becomes particular precarious if state power is
directed by private interest groups, lobbyists, etc.
Clearly, the bees were not a case of paternalism as they did not
(substantially) increase the wellbeing of those who were nudged. Similarly,
nudging smokers to quit smoking does not aim to increase their wellbeing
– although some of the arguments seem to support this
– but to reduce the
See the by-now classic treatment of self-referential systems in Hofstadter (1980).
In Germany, cigarette packages show in big letters the warning “Rauchen kann
M.J. Holler: Paternalism, Gamification, or Art
negative external effects for the non-smokers. Here benefits do not go to
private companies but to the “general public of passive smokers.”
Moreover, the various disadvantageous and hostile regulations that smokers
face exceed the nudging proposed by libertarian paternalism: they seriously
restrain the freedom of choice. Nudging a subset of citizens in order to
reduce externalities for others is in conflict with the Thaler and Sunstein’s
definition of libertarian paternalism given above, still it could be justified
by the increase of welfare by a larger share of the population.
The problem of soft paternalism, based on nudging, is that the addressees
are likely to regret their reactions to nudging when they realize that they
were the victims of some manipulation and try to restore the previous status
again. The regret reaction might be less likely if the nudge was delivered in
the form of a game and manipulation was less obvious and the game was
enjoyable. However, is it morally justifiable for a libertarian paternalist to
nudge people in a way such that they are not aware of it and have no chance
to resist? How can this match with consumer sovereignity, the buttress of
our market society?
Hausman and Welch (2010) discuss the use of
subliminal messages to influence the decision behavior of the nudgee’s in
order to advance their wellbeing. For example, the government might “be
able increase the frequency with which people brush their teeth by requiring
that the message, ‘Brush your teeth!’ be flashed briefly during prime-time
television programs” (Hausman and Welch 2010: 131). They argue:
“Influencing behavior in this way may be a greater threat to liberty, broadly
conceived, than punishing drivers who do not wear seat belts.” Of course,
this leads to the much more fundamental question of how a citizen can
evaluate (and control by his vote) a government policy if it seems to leave
the final decision to him- or herself – and he or she is not aware of the
nudging that makes him or her prefer what the authority is aiming for. In
fact, “nudges on the part of the government may be inconsistent with the
respect toward citizens that a representative government ought to show”
(Hausman and Welch 2010: 134). There is the danger that the roles of the
principal (the citizens) and the agents (the government) get confused.
Nudging shifts the responsibility of government to the level of individual
decision-making; it is a form of obfuscation policy that circumvents the
control by those who are governed and is therefore inconsistent with
prerequisites of democracy.
But there are also costs to it. Insurance experts like to point out that lung cancer
patients die fast and the financial burden is relatively low.
A number of contributions of the Jahrbuch ”Normative und institutionelle
Grundfragen der Ökonomik, Band 12“ deal with the limits of consumer sovereignity
and their manipulation in the context of paternalism (Held et al. 2013).
For obfuscation policy in democracy, see Magee et al. (1989), Magee (1997), and
Holler (2007, 2010).
Homo Oeconomicus 32(2)
In a working paper, Sunstein (2014) admits that there are moral
arguments that question manipulative strategies if the addressees do not
agree to them. Nudging can undermine the autonomy and the dignity of the
persons subjected to it. If so, then we have to conclude that the Kunstimbiss
violates the moral norms of a fair business (but it is not a business). It
seduces people to come closer either to find some sausages or coffee and
tea, or to satisfy their curiosity by finding out what this coach offers. They
walk into the trap laid out by Katharina Kohl and DG Reiss. There should
be a problem if the two were social workers eager to enhance the art
education in forlorn quarters of the city. However they are artists and the
Kunstimbiss is a piece of art that is complemented by visits, questions and
explanations, and sometimes sales. Art seduces, mani-pulates, appeals to
emotions or the brain, or to both. Art invites us to play with alternative
worlds and therein offers emotions, thoughts and actions that we cannot
afford, or that do not or cannot exist in this world. Given this, everything
could be art.
4. Playing with expectations
Marcel Duchamp came to this conclusion and his ready-mades are the result
of this insight. In his younger years he painted, first in an impressionist style,
then following the paths of cubism and futurism. In 1913, his painting “Nu
descendant un escalier no. 2“ (“Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2”) was
shown, together with some of his other paintings, at the Armory Show in
New York. It has been said that this painting was strongly influenced by
Eadweard Muybridges‘s photo series, especially by “Woman walking down
Duchamp’s painting caused a scandal. It could well be that visitors
of the show expected to see a nude, probably a female, going down a
staircase. In the stead, they saw variations of a puppet made out of tubes
painted in a yellow-brown color stepping down a staircase indicated in the
dark-brown background of the picture. What they saw was a cubist painting
that represented in a rather abstract way rhythmic movements. This was not
a body, but more like a machine as Nobel literature laureate Octavio Paz
(1978: 10) notes. The visitors were trapped into an interpretation of a
painting which came as a shock to most of them.
Duchamp’s work needs an active audience. In a radio interview of 1959,
he clarified that an object can only become a piece of art if it is noticed and
A selection of twenty-two works by Muybridge (1830-1904) are exhibited at the
Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, April 24 to October 4, 2015, demonstrating the
movement of men, women, and, e.g., a horse in the form of a sequence of photos.
There is a reference to Marcel Duchamp and his “Nude Descending a Staircase No.
2” posted in the exhibition hall.
M.J. Holler: Paternalism, Gamification, or Art
acknowledged by an active audience. Does this imply that the Kunstimbiss
can only be a piece of art if it attracts people who submit themselves to the
communication of art offered by it? Attracting people, or should we say
trapping people, is an essential part of the Kunstimbiss project.
To Octavio Paz, Duchamp was a painter of ideas who never accepted the
false interpretation that painting is a manual activity − producing art subject
to visual experience, only. Duchamp was fascinated by language. He
considered language a perfect instrument to create meaning and to destroy
it (Paz 1978:5). Both elements we find in Duchamp’s readymades.
Duchamp reports “In 1913 I had the happy idea to fasten a bicycle wheel to
a kitchen stool and watch it turn….In New York in 1915 I bought at a
hardware store a snow shovel on which I write ‘In Advance of the Broken
Arm’ ” (Sanouillet and Peterson 1973: 141). It should be noted that these
objects were private experiments as Duchamp refrained from showing them
to an audience or exhibit them in a gallery. His object Fountain, however,
transgressed this line of privacy. He smuggled this porcelain urinal, signed
with “R. Mutt,” into an exhibition organized by the Society of Independent
Artists in 1917, staged at The Grand Central Palace in New York. Although
he was a member of the jury of this event, this object was rejected from
When the show was over the Fountain reemerged, a sale was enacted,
and the object was brought to Alfred Stieglitz’s studio to get photographed.
The photo was published together with comments in the Dada magazine The
Blind Man, however, the original object has been lost. There were rumors
that Duchamp himself was the author of these comments. This author
claimed that “R. Mutt” wanted to introduce a new idea for this object,
extending its relevance to the world of art by demonstrating that it is not just
for use as urinal. Danto (1999:73) argues that thereby Duchamp anticipated
Warhol’s proclamation that everything can be art and prepared Beuys’s
dictum that everybody is an artist. In this spirit, no wonder, seventeen
replica of the Fountain, authorized by Duchamp, exist today. Most of them
are items of the collections of rather prominent art galleries. Duchamp might
argue that it does not matter that the original object no longer exists as long
as the replica convey his idea and disseminate it over the globe. Most likely
this is main reason why he authorized so many replica. But he was also
aware that objects have to be scarce to be considered as art and have a
corresponding impact − this is why he signed readymades and insisted on
authorization of replica. He also realized “the danger of repeating
indiscriminately this form of expression and decided to limit the production
of ‘readymades’ to a small number yearly.” He “was aware…, that for the
spectator even more than for the artist, art is a habit forming drug” and he
wanted to protect his readymades “against such contamination” (Sanouillet
and Peterson 1973:142).
Homo Oeconomicus 32(2)
Indeed, over many years, Duchamp did not produce art objects at all, but
dedicated himself to playing chess. He was a competent chess player, and
became a member of the French national team playing the unofficial Chess
Olympics at Paris in 1924 and four official Chess Olympics thereafter. It
has been argued that his dealing with art, and the concepts and strategies he
developed therein, was just an apprenticeship for his playing of chess.
However, it took quite some time until the message of the readymades
spread: Not the object is art but the process. The difference between art and
other objects can no longer be found out by just looking at it. This also
applies to the Kunstimbiss: One has to come closer, and get involved.
However, the classification is even more complex in the case of Kunstimbiss
as the objects on sale are not snow shovels or bottle dryer racks, but objects
that are interpreted as art. Yet, they are also readymades as they are not
merely exhibited for sale, but used as input to an art object: the Kunstimbiss.
Informing and motivating the passerby is an important aspect of the
Kunstimbiss, but this again is just an input. Otherwise one might argue that
the Kunstimbiss is trapping people and its moral justification could be
highly questionable depending on the “model of man” we cherish. On the
other hand, it could well be that being an object of art enriches us. We may
get inspired, and start to rethink conditions of the art market and art
production, and concepts of art, liberty and paternalism.
5. Paternalism summarized
Hard paternalism makes use of binding constraints such as regulations,
laws, and commands. There is a paternalistic authority (e.g., the State) that
makes use of these instruments − for the benefit of the people. Soft
paternalism induces a voluntary change in behavior in order to advance the
nudgee’s welfare. Inasmuch as it does not reduce the set of alternatives and
respects the freedom of choice, as implied by nudging, it is also labelled
libertarian paternalism. However, there is the slippery slope hypothesis
which suggests that libertarian paternalism prepares the ground for hard
paternalism and is therefore a threat to the freedom of choice. Obviously,
there are forms of paternalism that seem to mix elements of both hard and
soft paternalism. The banning of smoking does not forbid smoking as such
but it makes it more “cumbersome” and some smokers might give up their
cigarettes and cigars because they hate freezing outside of warm and cosy
looking restaurants. Also, they might feel alarmed to protect their health by
stopping smoking. Thus, means of hard paternalism, implying a reduction
of the choice set, may increase awareness and serve as a nudge to change
behavior from A to B, although both alternatives are still available.
However, it can be argued that the banning of smoking from public spaces
was not a paternalistic policy since it was not directed to protect the health
M.J. Holler: Paternalism, Gamification, or Art
of the smokers and increase their welfare, but to protect non-smokers from
the multiple disadvantages of “passive smoking.” If this holds, then banning
is a means of getting rid of the external effects of smoking to non-smokers.
Yet, even dedicated smokers might profit from the banning as they now
have a chance to enjoy a good breeze of fresh air together with their cigarette
or cigar and to profit from social interaction with their fellow smokers.
The example of the banning of smoking demonstrate that it is not always
obvious that a particular act of policy constitutes paternalism or a reduction
of externalities, or whether it is just a means of reducing costs or increasing
revenues, profits, popularity, reputation, etc. “Who benefits” is a litmus test
for paternalism. We have seen that nudging does not always imply (soft)
paternalism. On the other hand, nudging could be unjustifiable (or
considered immoral) as it violates the autonomy of the nudgee especially if
“pulling strings on your behalf without your even noticing.”
we can think in terms of nudges although it is not even obvious what they
are aiming for or who is nudging whom. In a recent paper, Dimitropoulos
(2015) assumes that even governments might get nudged for achieving a
more efficient system of international trade. Yet, who is the paternalist in
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