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The Manipulation of Choice: Ethics and Libertarian Paternalism [Paperback]

Mark D. White

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Book Description

Jan. 30 2013 1137287764 978-1137287762

Dr. Mark D. White explains the informational, ethical, and practical problems faced by libertarian paternalism and 'nudges,' by which the government subtly influences people's choices for their own good, in his exciting new volume The Manipulation of Choice. In a lighthearted manner, the author points out critical flaws in the way economists model decision-making, how behavioral economics failed to correct them, and how they led to the problems with libertarian paternalism and nudges. Sprinkled throughout with anecdotes, examples, and references to a wide range of scholarly literature, this new volume argues against the use of paternalistic nudges by the government and makes a positive case for individual choice and autonomy.

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"The 'libertarian paternalism' theory promises to use the state to help correct citizens' wrong decisions without asking their consent, yet also without truly entering the realm of coercion. Too good to be true? Indeed it is, as this book helps to show. Mark White gives us the sort of analysis we need to nudge back." - Walter Olson, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute, USA

"The Manipulation of Choice states that paternalists impose their own values and goals onto hapless consumers and citizens. Hence, public policies designed to correct the imperfections of behavioral irrationality are coercive. This is an important point and one that needs to be debated." - Jonathan B. Wight, Professor of Economics and International Studies, University of Richmond, USA

"An important book on a timely topic. The Manipulation of Choice is an accessible book that is especially well suited for students. But it is also a welcome challenge to a currently fashionable theory that libertarians and paternalists alike should read with pleasure. Mark White . . . challenges the moral foundations of the entire research program." - The Independent Review

"The work is a solid, compelling read for anyone interested in a concise but comprehensive account of the case against libertarian paternalism and its theoretical foundations. In the course of battling libertarian paternalism and its underlying theories, White simultaneously builds a positive case for individual freedom in defence of more traditional, non-paternalistic paradigms of libertarian philosophy and economics." - Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics

About the Author

Mark D. White is the Chair of the Department of Political Science, Economics, and Philosophy at the College of Staten Island, a previous Palgrave author (Accepting the Invisible Hand: Market-Based Approaches to Social-Economic Problems, 2010), and the series editor of Palgrave's 'Perspectives from Social Economics' series. At his Psychology Today blog 'Maybe It's Just Me, But…,' he writes about a wide range of topics, from adultery and self-loathing to more esoteric topics in philosophy and law, regularly draws thousands of readers. He also provides scholarly commentary on the Economics and Ethics group blog, discussion of comics and philosophy at The Comics Professor, and offers law-related perspective as a guest blogger at The Literary Table. His website is and he can found on Twitter at @profmdwhite.

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Important reading May 27 2013
By Academic Lawyer - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
White's discussion of the so-called "libertarian paternalism" is thorough and important. He does some valuable debunking of both the problems inherent in libertarian paternalism, an attempt to have your cake and eat it too, and perhaps even more importantly, the similar shortcomings of conventional economic thought for resolving many social ills and addressing the places where markets fail.

Alas, his critique suffers from some of the same shortcomings as he charges others, particularly conventional economists, with -- that is, he makes some assumptions about the nature of the relationship between buyers and sellers in the modern marketplace that seem to be of dubious empirical foundation. For instance, he claims that buyers and sellers are "natural" antagonists and he acknowledges that sellers often attempt to manipulate buyers. But he asserts that this mostly works out and buyers' skepticism toward advertising mostly insulates them. White's construction of the marketplace is one in which there is rough equivalence between buyers and sellers and it is the government and its meddling interference on paternalistic grounds with which we ought to be most concerned. However, this rosy picture of functional equivalence is not accurate. Sellers, especially the largest ones, have far more resources at their disposal for persuasion than could ever be adequately defended against by any individual. Indeed, because human beings have limited time and attention, there is no possibility of doing adequate research on all of one's consumer purchases, even supposing that there were no cognitive limitations as well. Of course there are cognitive, resource, and time constraints that make the playing field quite tilted and White does not really grapple with this reality. Instead, he conjures up an imaginary world of rough equivalence.

Still, this is a must read for anyone interested in the issues of paternalism and regulation.