It has come because of the failure of two older ideas. The first was post-war, top-down, bureaucratic paternalism - still, bizarrely, kept alive, if only just, by Gordon Brown’s wretched regime. This depended on the economics of John Maynard Keynes and assumed that, ultimately, clever people in the government knew best. The second was neo-liberalism, the cult of the free market that, under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, became the orthodoxy of the West. This depended on the economics of Milton Friedman and assumed that, ultimately, people, through the workings of the market, knew best. Both had their successes and both failed. With Nudge, Thaler and Sunstein have written the textbook of the Third Way.
This third way precisely splits the difference. They call it libertarian paternalism. This means there should always be freedom of choice but there should also be nudges in the direction of doing the right thing.
But it’s interesting stuff, you might think. Unfortunately, if you read the book you will change your mind. Although snappily packaged with its one-word title to get into the same market sector as Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, it is a very, very dull read, a dogged march through social policies with boring lists of what nudges should be imposed and how.