Cass R. Sunstein

Cass R. Sunstein is Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School and Chair of the Technical Advisory Group on Behavioral Insights and Sciences at the World Health Organization. He is the author of The Cost-Benefit Revolution, How Change Happens, Too Much Information, Sludge (all published by the MIT Press), Nudge (with Richard H. Thaler), and other books.

  • Bounded Rationality

    Heuristics, Judgment, and Public Policy

    Sanjit Dhami and Cass R. Sunstein

    Two leaders in the field explore the foundations of bounded rationality and its effects on choices by individuals, firms, and the government.

    Bounded rationality recognizes that human behavior departs from the perfect rationality assumed by neoclassical economics. In this book, Sanjit Dhami and Cass Sunstein explore the foundations of bounded rationality and consider the implications of this approach for public policy and law, in particular for questions about choice, welfare, and freedom. The authors, both recognized as experts in the field, cover a wide range of empirical findings and assess theoretical work that attempts to explain those findings. Their presentation is comprehensive, coherent, and lucid, with even the most technical material explained accessibly. They not only offer observations and commentary on the existing literature but also explore new insights, ideas, and connections.

    After examining the traditional neoclassical framework, which they refer to as the Bayesian rationality approach (BRA), and its empirical issues, Dhami and Sunstein offer a detailed account of bounded rationality and how it can be incorporated into the social and behavioral sciences. They also discuss a set of models of heuristics-based choice and the philosophical foundations of behavioral economics. Finally, they examine libertarian paternalism and its strategies of “nudges.”

    • Paperback $60.00
  • Sludge

    Sludge

    What Stops Us from Getting Things Done and What to Do about It

    Cass R. Sunstein

    How we became so burdened by red tape and unnecessary paperwork, and why we must do better.

    We've all had to fight our way through administrative sludge—filling out complicated online forms, mailing in paperwork, standing in line at the motor vehicle registry. This kind of red tape is a nuisance, but, as Cass Sunstein shows in Sludge, it can also impair health, reduce growth, entrench poverty, and exacerbate inequality. Confronted by sludge, people just give up—and lose a promised outcome: a visa, a job, a permit, an educational opportunity, necessary medical help. In this lively and entertaining look at the terribleness of sludge, Sunstein explains what we can do to reduce it.

    Because of sludge, Sunstein explains, too many people don't receive benefits to which they are entitled. Sludge even prevents many people from exercising their constitutional rights—when, for example, barriers to voting in an election are too high. (A Sludge Reduction Act would be a Voting Rights Act.) Sunstein takes readers on a tour of the not-so-wonderful world of sludge, describes justifications for certain kinds of sludge, and proposes “Sludge Audits” as a way to measure the effects of sludge. On balance, Sunstein argues, sludge infringes on human dignity, making people feel that their time and even their lives don't matter. We must do better.

    • Hardcover $24.95
  • Too Much Information

    Too Much Information

    Understanding What You Don't Want to Know

    Cass R. Sunstein

    How information can make us happy or miserable, and why we sometimes avoid it and sometimes seek it out.

    How much information is too much? Do we need to know how many calories are in the giant vat of popcorn that we bought on our way into the movie theater? Do we want to know if we are genetically predisposed to a certain disease? Can we do anything useful with next week's weather forecast for Paris if we are not in Paris? In Too Much Information, Cass Sunstein examines the effects of information on our lives. Policymakers emphasize “the right to know,” but Sunstein takes a different perspective, arguing that the focus should be on human well-being and what information contributes to it. Government should require companies, employers, hospitals, and others to disclose information not because of a general “right to know” but when the information in question would significantly improve people's lives.

    Sunstein argues that the information on warnings and mandatory labels is often confusing or irrelevant, yielding no benefit. He finds that people avoid information if they think it will make them sad (and seek information they think will make them happy). Our information avoidance and information seeking is notably heterogeneous—some of us do want to know the popcorn calorie count, others do not. Of course, says Sunstein, we are better off with stop signs, warnings on prescription drugs, and reminders about payment due dates. But sometimes less is more. What we need is more clarity about what information is actually doing or achieving.

    • Hardcover $27.95
    • Paperback $19.95
  • How Change Happens

    How Change Happens

    Cass R. Sunstein

    The different ways that social change happens, from unleashing to nudging to social cascades.

    "Sunstein's book is illuminating because it puts norms at the center of how we think about change."—David Brooks, The New York Times

    How does social change happen? When do social movements take off? Sexual harassment was once something that women had to endure; now a movement has risen up against it. White nationalist sentiments, on the other hand, were largely kept out of mainstream discourse; now there is no shortage of media outlets for them. In this book, with the help of behavioral economics, psychology, and other fields, Cass Sunstein casts a bright new light on how change happens.

    Sunstein focuses on the crucial role of social norms—and on their frequent collapse. When norms lead people to silence themselves, even an unpopular status quo can persist. Then one day, someone challenges the norm—a child who exclaims that the emperor has no clothes; a woman who says “me too.” Sometimes suppressed outrage is unleashed, and long-standing practices fall.

    Sometimes change is more gradual, as “nudges” help produce new and different decisions—apps that count calories; texted reminders of deadlines; automatic enrollment in green energy or pension plans. Sunstein explores what kinds of nudges are effective and shows why nudges sometimes give way to bans and mandates. Finally, he considers social divisions, social cascades, and “partyism,” when identification with a political party creates a strong bias against all members of an opposing party—which can both fuel and block social change.

    • Hardcover $29.95
    • Paperback $17.95
  • The Cost-Benefit Revolution

    The Cost-Benefit Revolution

    Cass R. Sunstein

    Why policies should be based on careful consideration of their costs and benefits rather than on intuition, popular opinion, interest groups, and anecdotes.

    Opinions on government policies vary widely. Some people feel passionately about the child obesity epidemic and support government regulation of sugary drinks. Others argue that people should be able to eat and drink whatever they like. Some people are alarmed about climate change and favor aggressive government intervention. Others don't feel the need for any sort of climate regulation. In The Cost-Benefit Revolution, Cass Sunstein argues our major disagreements really involve facts, not values. It follows that government policy should not be based on public opinion, intuitions, or pressure from interest groups, but on numbers—meaning careful consideration of costs and benefits. Will a policy save one life, or one thousand lives? Will it impose costs on consumers, and if so, will the costs be high or negligible? Will it hurt workers and small businesses, and, if so, precisely how much?

    As the Obama administration's “regulatory czar,” Sunstein knows his subject in both theory and practice. Drawing on behavioral economics and his well-known emphasis on “nudging,” he celebrates the cost-benefit revolution in policy making, tracing its defining moments in the Reagan, Clinton, and Obama administrations (and pondering its uncertain future in the Trump administration). He acknowledges that public officials often lack information about costs and benefits, and outlines state-of-the-art techniques for acquiring that information. Policies should make people's lives better. Quantitative cost-benefit analysis, Sunstein argues, is the best available method for making this happen—even if, in the future, new measures of human well-being, also explored in this book, may be better still.

    • Hardcover $19.95
    • Paperback $19.95

Contributor

  • The State of Economics, the State of the World

    The State of Economics, the State of the World

    Kaushik Basu, David Rosenblatt, and Claudia Sepúlveda

    Leading economists address the ongoing challenges to economics in theory and practice in a time of political and economic crises.

    More than a decade of financial crises, sovereign debt problems, political conflict, and rising xenophobia and protectionism has left the global economy unsettled and the ability of economics as a discipline to account for episodes of volatility uncertain. In this book, leading economists consider the state of their discipline in a world of ongoing economic and political crises.

    The book begins with three sweeping essays by Nobel laureates Kenneth Arrow (in one of his last published works), Amartya Sen, and Joseph Stiglitz that offer a summary of the theoretical foundations of modern economics—the twin pillars of general equilibrium theory and welfare economics. Contributors then turn to macroeconomic stabilization and growth and, finally, new areas of research that depart from traditional theory, methodology, and concerns: climate change, behavioral economics, and evolutionary game theory. The 2019 Nobel Prize laureates, Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer, contribute a paper on the use of randomized control trials indevelopment economics.

    ContributorsPhilippe Aghion, Ingela Alger, Kenneth Arrow, Abhijit Banerjee, Kaushik Basu, Lawrence Blume, Guillermo Calvo, Francesco Caselli, Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Shantayanan Devarajan, Esther Duflo, Samuel Fankhauser, James Foster, Varun Gauri, Xavier Gine, Gäel Giraud, Gita Gopinath, Robert Hockett, Karla Hoff, Ravi Kanbur, Aart Kraay, Michael Kremer, David McKenzie, Célestin Monga, Maurice Obstfeld, Hamid Rashid, Martin Ravallion, Amartya Sen, Luis Servén, Hyun Song Shin, Nicholas Stern, Joseph Stiglitz, Cass Sunstein, Michael Toman, Jörgen Weibull

    • Hardcover $40.00