After nudging: the ethical challenge of post-pandemic policymaking

Dan Degerman, Elliott Johnson, Matthew Flinders, Matthew Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article explores the interplay between crises, opportunities and democratic change. A vast body of scholarship underlines that crises open ‘windows of opportunity’ that can, on occasion, lead to radical shifts in the role of the state and the design of public policy. Even when a radical shift occurs, however, it has often proved be temporary, with relationships and processes quickly reverting to pre-crisis modes once the immediacy of the crisis abates. This time may well be different. The consequences of decades of rolling back infrastructure and supporting concentrations of resources in individuals and areas are being exacerbated by climate change, geopolitical conflict and new waves of disease. The challenge for liberal policymakers is now heightened by evidence that suggests that nudging, a liberal paternalist means of promoting certain ends, is ineffective. Policymakers now have to confront a real ethical dilemma: having used nudging as a technical means of maintaining neutrality as equality, there is now a choice between coercing to achieve certain outcomes or investing in addressing the social determinants that actually do affect behaviour. This article suggests that only the latter is consistent with liberal paternalism.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHumanities and Social Sciences Communications
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 4 Dec 2023

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