Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE)

Reader 1

Shanna Rose

Reader 2

Lily Geismer

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Rights Information

© 2020 Melanie L Wolfe


Since Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein published Nudge in 2008, policy makers and behavioral economists have applied their theory of behavioral interventions in offices called nudge units across the world. In the U.S., three models of operating nudge units have emerged in cities, and their work helps generate revenue and improve the welfare of citizens. However, the limited media attention and academic analysis dedicated to municipal nudge units has left many unresolved questions about the ethical implications and empirical challenges associated with government-sponsored behavioral interventions. Analyzing the behavioral design teams in New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia reveals a lack of government oversight and citizen engagement that could jeopardize the reputation of nudge units moving forward. Particularly as nudges themselves become more complex with the introduction of big data and machine learning methods, it is essential for cities with nudge units to create a more inclusive dialogue about how to design nudges that do not undermine individual autonomy or privacy rights.