Many public policies are paternalistic. They come with strings intended to save people from themselves, such as laws requiring helmets for motorcyclists and prohibiting buying alcohol with food stamps. But Esther Duflo, a development economist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said during the year’s first Tanner Lecture on Wednesday that the world’s rich prosper in part because they have less freedom to choose how to attain basic comforts. Duflo, who in 2003 co-founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-Pal) at MIT, said that, historically, assisting poor people has taken the form of charity, providing intermittent aid without consulting them about what they need. That has led to mistrust and little progress, she said. On the right, the notion of aid to the poor has taken the form of libertarian paternalism, that individuals are freer if they have more choice. But the rich benefit from a paternalism that offers them...
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