Public Lectures: Cass Sunstein, ‘Free by Default’ – University College London, 13-15 October 2014

“When should people choose, and when should they choose not to do so? Contrary to some of the important strands in liberal political thought, human beings are often free by default. Default rules, chosen by private or public institutions, establish settings and starting points for central aspects of our lives, including countless goods and activities—cell phones, rental car agreements, computers, savings plans, health insurance, websites, privacy, and much more. Many of these rules do a great deal of good, but others are badly chosen and impose considerable harm. The obvious alternative to default rules, of particular interest when individual situations are diverse, is active choosing, by which people are asked or required to make decisions on their own. But if active choosing were required in all contexts, people would quickly be overwhelmed. Especially in complex and unfamiliar areas, default rules have significant advantages. It is where people prefer to choose, and where learning is both feasible and important, that active choosing is usually best. At the same time, it is increasingly possible for private and public institutions to produce highly personalized default rules, designed to fit individual circumstances, and thus to reduce the problems with one-size-fits-all defaults. At least when choice architects can be trusted, personalized default rules offer most (not all) of the advantages of active choosing without the disadvantages; they can increase both welfare and freedom. These points raise fresh challenges for capitalist economies, the proper conception of human dignity, democratic processes, and personal privacy …” (more, registration)

[University College London, July]

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