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Libertarian Paternalism and the Park, Recreation, and Tourism Profession

Daniel Dustin, Chris A. B. Zajchowski, N. Qwynne Lackey, Deborah Tysor, Troy Bennett, Katherine Pagano, Megan Taylor


In this paper we apply the concept of “libertarian paternalism” to the park, recreation, and tourism profession. Libertarian paternalism is a term coined in Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Thaler and Sunstein (2009). Nudges influence people’s choices without compromising or restricting their ability to choose, and therefore may be particularly appropriate in parks, recreation, and tourism. Nudges are proven ways for leaders, programmers, directors, administrators, planners, and policymakers to encourage recreational conduct that is good for recreationists, and that recreationists would likely choose for themselves if only they were privy to all the information about the consequences of their conduct. We begin by briefly discussing “self-paternalism,” a precursor to libertarian paternalism espoused by Sax (1980) in Mountains without Handrails. Then, after explaining what Thaler and Sunstein mean by libertarian paternalism, we describe park, recreation, and tourism professionals as “choice architects” who are responsible for managing the contexts within which recreational choices are made. Choice architects orchestrate nudges by taking advantage of what is known about human psychology, and, in particular, what is known about human psychological predispositions to behave in certain ways. We offer four examples of how choice architects currently influence human behavior, and then challenge readers to think of their own ways to nudge their constituencies in a manner that contributes to human and environmental health. Finally, we advocate for libertarian paternalism, choice architecture, and nudging as an appropriate orientation to service for the park, recreation, and tourism profession. 

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Choice architects; freedom; influence; nudges; psychology

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