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Forum for Social Economics: Special Issue on "Meritorics and Paternalism"

It is one of the fundamental assumptions of neoclassical economics that all individual preferences are equally justified and valuable, be they for bibles or for knuckledusters. While this assumption is central to justify social choice theory, welfare economics and other strains of mainstream economics, it is challenged by a large number of real-world observations, be it the public support for cultural amenities or obligatory schooling.

Two concepts have been put forward in the last decades that question the value-neutrality of preferences. In 1957, Richard Musgrave introduced the concept of “merit goods” – goods which should be demanded to a stronger degree than they actually are. While Musgrave’s concept clearly had more opponents than supporters among economists, another attempt was started by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in 2009. In their book “nudge”, they introduced “libertarian paternalism”, the idea that certain choices should be supported to a stronger degree than others. Although this concept received a rather friendly reception among scholars, it is yet less clear than ever to which degree the fundamentals of neoclassical economics need to be revised.

The Forum for Social Economics wants to contribute to this question and invites contributors who may approach the evaluation of preferences from an empirical and/ or from a theoretical angle.

Key Themes

This open, international special issue will explore the justification to interfere in individual decisions, both from empirical and theoretical perspectives. Utilitarian or deontological approaches towards the moral justification of interventions will be as valuable as case studies, for example from cultural or educational economics. The following questions may serve as a guideline of useful contributions for the issue:

  • How do the concepts of merit goods and of libertarian paternalism relate to each other on an epistemological and conceptual level?
  • Which paradigms of economics textbooks would have to be revised and rewritten if a concept like “merit goods” or “libertarian paternalism” should be integrated in a theory on economic policy in a consistent way?
  • Are paternalistic interventions justified in the face of market failures which are caused by the unintended consequences of complex decisions?
  • In which realms have the concepts of meritorics and paternalism entered everyday political decisions and which effect on society does that have?
  • Which empirical evidence exists that a society fares better/ worse by consciously steering consumer choices?
  • Why are there sectors like markets for machines or currencies in which paternalistic interventions are extremely unusual, while such interventions are everyday business in markets for health, education and culture?
  • Which case studies illustrate best the merits and shortcomings of paternalistic interventions by the state?


Innovative and clearly written manuscripts are subject to the Forum’s double-blind review process. The maximum length of original research articles is between 6,500 and 8,500 words. The length for shorter papers such as review articles is no longer than 4,000 words. An abstract of 150 words should accompany the manuscript. The main document must not disclose the identity of the author. For additional guidelines and procedures please see our Instructions to Authors at the publisher’s website www.tandfonline.com

Submissions should be directed through the on-line submission system here.

For further information on this Special Issue, please contact the Special Issue Editor:

Dr. Dr. Stefan Mann, email: [email protected]

Submission Dates:

  • Abstracts Due: April 01, 2015
  • Final Manuscripts Due: December 15, 2015

Publication of Special Issue scheduled for the end of 2016.

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