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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Prudence and the Use and Abuse of the New Learning About Salience


We have learned that tax policy preferences are sensitive to how questions are presented to voters (their salience). If one believes, reasonably, that there is also evidence that voters do not vote for their preferred tax policy, then manipulating salience could help voters arrive at their preferred outcome. Such manipulation has been strongly criticized as not only impinging on voter autonomy as to their legitimate policy preferences, but also likely to be worse than ineffective because it would violate norms of procedural justice and possibly engender blowback. In this article, I will sketch the line between what is permissible and what is not. Choosing the right level of salience is a practice in prudence. Prudence is the virtue of mind associated with making better decisions when there are many reasonable options to choose from. A prudent salience engineer will use the new learning about salience to present the information a citizen needs to make a decision using her own practical judgment.

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