Is Sprawl An Example of Libertarian Paternalism?

MLewyn's picture

One widely-publicized attempt to find a middle ground between laissez-fair and overregulation is  "libertarian paternalism": the idea that (in the words of New York Times columnist David Brooks), "Government doesn’t tell you what to do, but it gently biases the context so that you find it easier to do things" favored by government.  For example, a state governnment could design forms making organ donation the "default option" for driver's license applicants, so one would have to consciously opt out of organ donation. 

Much of what I've read about libertarian paternalism seems to assume that this is something new.  But in fact, suburban sprawl has always involved more than a whiff of libertarian paternalism.

By deciding where to build highways, government gently biased Americans in favor of suburbia.  A late 20th-century American could still live in the city, but why bother when government was building new highways to make it easier to live in the suburbs?  And if the majority of housing is accessible by government-built roads but not by buses, isn't government making driving the default option? 


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