Skip to content
Register Sign in Wishlist

The Ethics of Influence
Government in the Age of Behavioral Science

$27.99 (G)

Part of Cambridge Studies in Economics, Choice, and Society

  • Date Published: August 2016
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107140707

$ 27.99 (G)

Add to cart Add to wishlist

Other available formats:

Looking for an examination copy?

If you are interested in the title for your course we can consider offering an examination copy. To register your interest please contact providing details of the course you are teaching.

Product filter button
About the Authors
  • In recent years, 'nudge units' or 'behavioral insights teams' have been created in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and other nations. All over the world, public officials are using the behavioral sciences to protect the environment, promote employment and economic growth, reduce poverty, and increase national security. In this book, Cass R. Sunstein, the eminent legal scholar and best-selling co-author of Nudge (2008), breaks new ground with a deep yet highly readable investigation into the ethical issues surrounding nudges, choice architecture, and mandates, addressing such issues as welfare, autonomy, self-government, dignity, manipulation, and the constraints and responsibilities of an ethical state. Complementing the ethical discussion, The Ethics of Influence: Government in the Age of Behavioral Science contains a wealth of new data on people's attitudes towards a broad range of nudges, choice architecture, and mandates.

    • The first book to examine the ethical issues surrounding nudges, allowing readers to evaluate nudges
    • Presents new research on what people think about various nudges currently being used, as well as hypothetical nudges
    • This new data can be used to gauge reaction to various nudges
    Read more

    Reviews & endorsements

    "In this era of intransigence and intolerance, The Ethics of Influence is a vitally needed book. It embraces what all of us - left, right, and center - mutually want: a balance between the goals of welfare, autonomy, dignity, and self-government. What’s more, it is a hoot to read. Roll over Mill and Marx; tell Hayek and Gramsci the news."
    George A. Akerlof, Nobel Laureate in Economics, 2001

    "As more governments and businesses turn to "nudging", pioneer Sunstein turns his brilliant mind to building an ethical framework for these powerful approaches. New findings on public attitudes to nudges - showing surprisingly high levels of support even among traditionally skeptical Americans - are combined with Sunstein’s trademark clarity of thought to offer a timely framework that will be influential across the world."
    David Halpern, CEO, Behavioural Insights Team, and author, Inside the Nudge Unit

    "In a book full of convincing detail but free of dogmatism, Sunstein walks us through the case for and against nudges. Nudges are, in some circumstances, the best tool government has at its disposal - cheaper than financial incentives, more freedom-preserving than mandates, and more effective than information. Our government is sometimes ethically required to nudge us. Nonetheless, nudges raise legitimate ethical concerns, foremost among them that they can be manipulative. Sunstein ultimately makes a powerful argument for the widespread use of nudges by government, but without shortchanging the ethical arguments on both sides."
    Anne Barnhill, University of Pennsylvania

    "One need not agree with all of Cass R. Sunstein’s arguments about nudging to admire him for doing more than anyone to champion the importance of behavioral science for public policymaking. Owing to him, it is an increasingly recognized ethical imperative to measure government actions not only against societal values but also against evidence."
    Ralph Hertwig, Director, Center for Adaptive Rationality, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Germany

    "Cass R. Sunstein knows more than anyone about nudging, and in this very insightful book he brings his acute reasoning to understanding the ethics behind choice architecture. Here he considers sources from Mill to Hayak to Ostrom, and argues that choice architecture is unavoidable and in many cases it is the right thing to do. Just as importantly, he talks about when nudging is wrong and when it is manipulative. All in all, it is an essential book for anyone interested in the ethics of behavioral intervention, either by governments or firms."
    Eric J. Johnson, Norman Eig Professor of Business, Columbia University, New York

    "Behavioural regulation has spread to governments worldwide. This brilliant book tackles the many myths that have evolved around the use of behavioural economics in politics. Cass R. Sunstein explains in clear words how (and why) the core values of an Ethical State - welfare, autonomy, dignity, and self-government - are indeed best served by governments that carefully base their policies on an empirical foundation and use behavioural insights as additional effective policy tools."
    Lucia A. Reisch, Copenhagen Business School

    "We typically consider ourselves rational actors, whose dignity derives from our autonomy. In fact, our behavior is easily shaped by other actors and by external factors, often outside our awareness and control. When government intervenes to influence our behaviors, often to improve our lives, we recoil. But if government remains uninvolved while other interests are free to shape our world, how autonomous are we then? Sunstein confronts our naiveté with a penetrating discussion about how to balance government influence against personal dignity, manipulation against autonomy, and behavioral facts against political ideals. This book is an engrossing read."
    Eldar Shafir, William Stuart Tod Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs, Princeton University, New Jersey, and co-author of Scarcity

    'In a fascinating survey section, which asks Americans and others what they actually think about being the subjects of the 'architecting' of their choices, Sunstein discovers that 'if people are told that they are being nudged, they will react adversely and resist' … That rebellious, rock-star figure on the cover is entirely appropriate. The ethics of human creativity, and the structural conditions which support its flourishing, may prove to be the ultimate challenge to the nudgers.' Pat Kane, New Scientist

    '… [a] tightly argued and admirably clear book … [and] an excellent primer of the relevant debates on nudges, and a sharp rejoinder to the more superficial objections.' David V. Johnson, The New Republic

    'This is a complex area and the book is appropriately complex, weaving through a myriad of ethical issues, at times a work of philosophy and at other times a tentative guide - a nudge in preferred directions - for government officialdom.' Harvey Schachter, The Globe and Mail

    '… this most enjoyable of studies consists of eight chapters that most coherently traverse the quagmire of both ethical and non-ethical (political) persuasion, and it does so in such a way that is formidably comprehensive and believable.' David Marx, David Marx:Book Reviews (

    'Sunstein has drawn much attention with his work on 'nudges' and the concept of 'choice architecture', the background conditions for popular choices, which underlies much of public policy … This volume examines the ethical implications in its use and the desired constraints on choice architecture by governments. Sunstein concentrates on four basic values that offer a measuring rod for such judgments: human welfare, personal autonomy, dignity, and self-government. In this inquiry, he asks what an ethical state should do and avoid and how it should distinguish between influence and manipulation … This excellent study of a sensitive topic for a wide variety of readers builds on Sunstein’s earlier work. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.' CHOICE

    ‘Sunstein has written a highly accessible book on a form of government intervention called nudging. The intended audience is the general public. It can be recommended reading to psychologists at all levels, ranging from college students to graduate- and postgraduate level researchers. It would be appropriate for courses on political psychology, behavioral consultation, applied psychology, and critical psychology. Sunstein’s analysis is relevant to all psychologists, no matter which side of the fence you are on concerning the ethical issues of government influence. If you aspire to serve the government as a behavioral scientist on nudging, you will find in this book a wise and practical guide.’ PsycCRITIQUES

    'The first instinct when considering a nudge is whether it will work - how effective it will be. But Sunstein adds a new dimension: Is it moral or unduly manipulative?' Harvey Schachter, Vanguard

    See more reviews

    Customer reviews

    Review was not posted due to profanity


    , create a review

    (If you're not , sign out)

    Please enter the right captcha value
    Please enter a star rating.
    Your review must be a minimum of 12 words.

    How do you rate this item?


    Product details

    • Date Published: August 2016
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107140707
    • length: 234 pages
    • dimensions: 237 x 160 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.47kg
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    1. The age of behavioral science
    2. Choice and its architecture
    3. 'As judged by themselves'
    4. Values
    5. Fifty shades of manipulation
    6. Do people like nudges? Empirical findings
    7. Green by default? Ethical challenges for environmental protection
    8. Mandates - a very brief recapitulation
    Appendix A. American attitudes toward thirty-four nudges
    Appendix B. Survey questions
    Appendix C. Executive Order 13707: using behavioral science insights to better serve the American people

  • Author

    Cass R. Sunstein, Harvard University, Massachusetts
    Cass R. Sunstein is Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard University, Massachusetts. From 2009 to 2012, he was Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He is the founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy at Harvard Law School, and he is the author of many articles and books, including the best-selling Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (with Richard H. Thaler, 2008), Simpler: The Future of Government (2013), Why Nudge? (2014), Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas (2014), Wiser: Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter (2014), Valuing Life: Humanizing the Regulatory State (2014), Choosing Not to Choose: Understanding the Value of Choice (2015) and Constitutional Personae: Heroes, Soldiers, Minimalists, and Mutes (2015).

Sign In

Please sign in to access your account


Not already registered? Create an account now. ×

Sorry, this resource is locked

Please register or sign in to request access. If you are having problems accessing these resources please email

Register Sign in
Please note that this file is password protected. You will be asked to input your password on the next screen.

» Proceed

You are now leaving the Cambridge University Press website. Your eBook purchase and download will be completed by our partner Please see the permission section of the catalogue page for details of the print & copy limits on our eBooks.

Continue ×

Continue ×

Continue ×

Find content that relates to you

Join us online

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Read more Close

Are you sure you want to delete your account?

This cannot be undone.


Thank you for your feedback which will help us improve our service.

If you requested a response, we will make sure to get back to you shortly.

Please fill in the required fields in your feedback submission.