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The Future of Government

Simon & Schuster,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Text available

What's inside?

A former Obama administration official shares the secrets of good regulation.

Editorial Rating



While working for President Barack Obama, Cass R. Sunstein became one of the far right’s favorite targets. Glenn Beck called him “the most dangerous man in America” and ran a spirited campaign against Sunstein’s appointment to head the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). Although Beck said he expected OIRA’s intrusive regulations to invade Americans’ privacy and curtail their liberty, Sunstein’s account of his tenure at OIRA proves rather evenhanded and undramatic. He writes as a pleasant if wonky insider who enthusiastically explains how regulations work, why they sometimes fail and how they differ from “nudges.” He introduces concepts such as “choice architecture,” “cost-benefit analysis,” and more. If this sounds a little dry – and lacks a bit of the flare of some of Sunstein’s earlier books, like Going to Extremes – you’ll soon see how everything he explains manifests in your daily life. getAbstract recommends this absorbing primer on regulation to anyone interested in the decisions that a government should and should not make for its citizens.


“A Little Office with a Big Impact”

Created by the 1980 Paperwork Reduction Act, the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) develops regulatory policy. Conservatives often dislike the agency, although President Ronald Reagan, himself a conservative, was the leader who expanded its regulatory responsibilities in 1981. Today the office regulates – among other concerns – the safety of the US food supply and the nation’s highways. In 2009, after a sustained nomination battle, Cass Sunstein became President Barack Obama’s OIRA administrator. Sunstein, always a believer in the efficacy of cost-benefit analyses, became more convinced during his term that it is the basis of sound regulation. He believes it played a vital role in establishing “Regulatory Moneyball” – creating regulations based on scrutiny and data, not on gut instincts.

The “nudge” is one of the tools of regulation. Nudges are not compulsory; they’re suggestions. A nudge might be a campaign to reduce distracted driving. Successful nudges “have high benefits and low costs.” They don’t directly interfere with people’s daily decisions and they aren’t difficult to reverse if they don’t ...

About the Author

Cass R. Sunstein teaches law and manages the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy at Harvard Law School. His books include Going to Extremes and A Constitution of Many Minds. He is the co-author of Nudge.

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