Carrots, Nudges, and Sticks

Publication Date


Streaming Media


One of Chicago’s Best Ideas, attributable to Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler (and a few others), emphasized the ability of “nudges” to change behavior in ways that were less intrusive than government mandates or other more direct methods aimed at influencing behavior. In this talk, the first in our annual series of “Chicago’s Best Ideas“, Professor Levmore expanded on the idea, a few of its applications, and then the economic and moral arguments against nudges. The larger topic is to place nudging strategies within the framework that addresses law’s constant choice between carrots (affirmative encouragements) and sticks (penalties). How, for example, should we decide whether to encourage socially useful behavior by taxing energy use, by rewarding efficient conservation, or by creating voluntary compliance (nudging) through default rules on temperature controls and other devices? Closer to home, should we regularly call on students in class, reward those who ask good questions, or slightly penalize those who do not contribute to class discussion. And when is some combination of nudges, carrots, and sticks the way to go? The choice is found almost everywhere.

Lecture Date

January 1, 2023