Instruments in Consumer Policy

Headed by:
Dr. Kathrin Loer
Project Status:
01/2017 - 12/2019

Type of project: Externally funded project (North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of Science and Research)

Project Outline

Achieving a sustainable economy and leading a healthy life require a change in consumer behavior. Political and administrative actors have become increasingly aware that achieving political goals in reducing energy consumption and saving resources as well as in health protection depends on the behavior of individual citizens to a significant degree. Theoretically, government consumer policy has a broad range of instruments at its disposal to pursue these political goals. However, where individual lifestyles and consumer decisions are concerned, financial incentives and informational measures are hardly effective in practice, and prohibitions and prescriptions are controversial and risky. Therefore, instruments that subtly and effectively “nudge” or direct individuals towards sustainable and healthy behavior instead of forcing or obligating them seem more attractive at least from a political perspective. Such measures are proposed by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler according to their concept of “nudging”, offering one of several methods from behavioral science that can be critically examined. This concept is linked to the term “libertarian paternalism” which designates a mixture of retaining individual freedom and well-intended state intervention that seems idiosyncratic and counter-intuitive at first glance.

This research project considers the whole range of instruments that possess potential in consumer policy but pose risks as well. "InivPol" endeavors to first allocate these new forms of steering behavior among the “toolbox” of instruments and then provide an overview of the application of behavioral economic instruments in selected countries. This concerns the question of how and to which degree steering instruments informed by behavioral science can be observed in OECD countries and how they function. The analysis pertains to political measures in the fields of health politics and energy and climate politics. The second part of the project analyses possible applications which, though they are proposed by behavioral scientists for certain areas, face (possible) hurdles and resistance in the political process. In this context, the aim is to clarify under which preconditions insights from behavioral science can be transformed into political strategies.

In accordance with the research strategy NRW, the knowledge generated by this research project is intended to be applied to the development of long-term strategies that – once implemented – serve to balance sustainable economic activity with sustainable consumption.

Project staff: Alexander Leipold, MA (German)

Hanno Hahn | 01.12.2022