Cass R. Sunstein
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About Cass R. Sunstein
Cass R. Sunstein is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School, where he is the founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy. He is by far the most cited law professor in the United States. From 2009 to 2012 he served in the Obama administration as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He has testified before congressional committees, appeared on national television and radio shows, been involved in constitution-making and law reform activities in a number of nations, and written many articles and books, including Simpler: The Future of Government and Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter.
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Books By Cass R. Sunstein
THE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER
‘A monumental, gripping book … Outstanding’ SUNDAY TIMES
‘Noise may be the most important book I've read in more than a decade. A genuinely new idea so exceedingly important you will immediately put it into practice. A masterpiece’
Angela Duckworth, author of Grit
‘An absolutely brilliant investigation of a massive societal problem that has been hiding in plain sight’
Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics
From the world-leaders in strategic thinking and the multi-million copy bestselling authors of Thinking Fast and Slow and Nudge, the next big book to change the way you think.
We like to think we make decisions based on good reasoning – and that our doctors, judges, politicians, economic forecasters and employers do too. In this groundbreaking book, three world-leading behavioural scientists come together to assess the last great fault in our collective decision-making: noise.
We all make bad judgements more than we think. Noise shows us what we can do to make better ones.
Bestselling author Cass R. Sunstein reveals the appeal and the danger of conformity
We live in an era of tribalism, polarization, and intense social division—separating people along lines of religion, political conviction, race, ethnicity, and sometimes gender. How did this happen? In Conformity, Cass R. Sunstein argues that the key to making sense of living in this fractured world lies in understanding the idea of conformity—what it is and how it works—as well as the countervailing force of dissent.
An understanding of conformity sheds new light on many issues confronting us today: the role of social media, the rise of fake news, the growth of authoritarianism, the success of Donald Trump, the functions of free speech, debates over immigration and the Supreme Court, and much more.
Lacking information of our own and seeking the good opinion of others, we often follow the crowd, but Sunstein shows that when individuals suppress their own instincts about what is true and what is right, it can lead to significant social harm. While dissenters tend to be seen as selfish individualists, dissent is actually an important means of correcting the natural human tendency toward conformity and has enormous social benefits in reducing extremism, encouraging critical thinking, and protecting freedom itself.
Sunstein concludes that while much of the time it is in the individual’s interest to follow the crowd, it is in the social interest for individuals to say and do what they think is best. A well-functioning democracy depends on it.
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.
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.
Why are group decisions so hard?
Since the beginning of human history, people have made decisions in groups—first in families and villages, and now as part of companies, governments, school boards, religious organizations, or any one of countless other groups. And having more than one person to help decide is good because the group benefits from the collective knowledge of all of its members, and this results in better decisions. Right?
Back to reality. We’ve all been involved in group decisions—and they’re hard. And they often turn out badly. Why? Many blame bad decisions on “groupthink” without a clear idea of what that term really means.
Now, Nudge coauthor Cass Sunstein and leading decision-making scholar Reid Hastie shed light on the specifics of why and how group decisions go wrong—and offer tactics and lessons to help leaders avoid the pitfalls and reach better outcomes. In the first part of the book, they explain in clear and fascinating detail the distinct problems groups run into:
- They often amplify, rather than correct, individual errors in judgment
- They fall victim to cascade effects, as members follow what others say or do
- They become polarized, adopting more extreme positions than the ones they began with
- They emphasize what everybody knows instead of focusing on critical information that only a few people know
In the second part of the book, the authors turn to straightforward methods and advice for making groups smarter. These approaches include silencing the leader so that the views of other group members can surface, rethinking rewards and incentives to encourage people to reveal their own knowledge, thoughtfully assigning roles that are aligned with people’s unique strengths, and more.
With examples from a broad range of organizations—from Google to the CIA—and written in an engaging and witty style, Wiser will not only enlighten you; it will help your team and your organization make better decisions—decisions that lead to greater success.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
#1 Washington Post Bestseller
There’s Santa Claus, Shakespeare, Mickey Mouse, the Bible, and then there’s Star Wars. Nothing quite compares to sitting down with a young child and hearing the sound of John Williams’s score as those beloved golden letters fill the screen. In this fun, erudite, and often moving book, Cass R. Sunstein explores the lessons of Star Wars as they relate to childhood, fathers, the Dark Side, rebellion, and redemption. As it turns out, Star Wars also has a lot to teach us about constitutional law, economics, and political uprisings.
In rich detail, Sunstein tells the story of the films’ wildly unanticipated success and explores why some things succeed while others fail. Ultimately, Sunstein argues, Star Wars is about freedom of choice and our never-ending ability to make the right decision when the chips are down. Written with buoyant prose and considerable heart, The World According to Star Wars shines a bright new light on the most beloved story of our time.
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 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.
Best-selling author Cass R. Sunstein examines how to avoid worst-case scenarios
The world is increasingly confronted with new challenges related to climate change, globalization, disease, and technology. Governments are faced with having to decide how much risk is worth taking, how much destruction and death can be tolerated, and how much money should be invested in the hopes of avoiding catastrophe. Lacking full information, should decision-makers focus on avoiding the most catastrophic outcomes? When should extreme measures be taken to prevent as much destruction as possible?
Averting Catastrophe explores how governments ought to make decisions in times of imminent disaster. Cass R. Sunstein argues that using the “maximin rule,” which calls for choosing the approach that eliminates the worst of the worst-case scenarios, may be necessary when public officials lack important information, and when the worst-case scenario is too disastrous to contemplate. He underscores this argument by emphasizing the reality of “Knightian uncertainty,” found in circumstances in which it is not possible to assign probabilities to various outcomes. Sunstein brings foundational issues in decision theory in close contact with real problems in regulation, law, and daily life, and considers other potential future risks. At once an approachable introduction to decision-theory and a provocative argument for how governments ought to handle risk, Averting Catastrophe offers a definitive path forward in a world rife with uncertainty.
“What makes Trump immune is that he is not a president within the context of a healthy Republican government. He is a cult leader of a movement that has taken over a political party – and he specifically campaigned on a platform of one-man rule. This fact permeates “Can It Happen Here? . . . which concludes, if you read between the lines, that “it” already has.” – New York Times Book Review
From New York Times bestselling author Cass R. Sunstein, a compelling collection of essays by the brightest minds in America on authoritarianism.
With the election of Donald J. Trump, many people on both the left and right feared that America’s 240-year-old grand experiment in democracy was coming to an end, and that Sinclair Lewis’ satirical novel, It Can’t Happen Here, written during the dark days of the 1930s, could finally be coming true. Is the democratic freedom that the United States symbolizes really secure? Can authoritarianism happen in America?
Acclaimed legal scholar, Harvard Professor, and New York Times bestselling author Cass R. Sunstein queried a number of the nation’s leading thinkers. In this thought-provoking collection of essays, these distinguished thinkers and theorists explore the lessons of history, how democracies crumble, how propaganda works, and the role of the media, courts, elections, and "fake news" in the modern political landscape—and what the future of the United States may hold.
- Martha Minow, dean of Harvard Law School
- Eric Posner, law professor at the University of Chicago Law School
- Tyler Cowen, economics professor at George Mason University
- Timur Kuran, economics and political science professor at Duke University
- Noah Feldman, professor of law at Harvard Law School
- Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business
- Jack Goldsmith, Professor at Harvard Law School, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and co-founder of Lawfare
- Stephen Holmes, Professor of Law at New York University
- Jon Elster, Professor of the Social Sciences at Columbia University
- Thomas Ginsburg, Professor of International Law and Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
- Cass R. Sunstein, Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard University
- Duncan Watts, sociologist and principal researcher at Microsoft Research
- Geoffrey R. Stone, University of Chicago Law school professor and noted First Amendment scholar
Is the modern administrative state illegitimate? Unconstitutional? Unaccountable? Dangerous? Intolerable? American public law has long been riven by a persistent, serious conflict, a kind of low-grade cold war, over these questions.
Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule argue that the administrative state can be redeemed, as long as public officials are constrained by what they call the morality of administrative law. Law and Leviathan elaborates a number of principles that underlie this moral regime. Officials who respect that morality never fail to make rules in the first place. They ensure transparency, so that people are made aware of the rules with which they must comply. They never abuse retroactivity, so that people can rely on current rules, which are not under constant threat of change. They make rules that are understandable and avoid issuing rules that contradict each other.
These principles may seem simple, but they have a great deal of power. Already, without explicit enunciation, they limit the activities of administrative agencies every day. But we can aspire for better. In more robust form, these principles could address many of the concerns that have critics of the administrative state mourning what they see as the demise of the rule of law. The bureaucratic Leviathan may be an inescapable reality of complex modern democracies, but Sunstein and Vermeule show how we can at last make peace between those who accept its necessity and those who yearn for its downfall.
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.
From the New York Times bestselling author of Nudge and The World According to Star Wars, a revealing account of how today's Internet threatens democracy—and what can be done about it
As the Internet grows more sophisticated, it is creating new threats to democracy. Social media companies such as Facebook can sort us ever more efficiently into groups of the like-minded, creating echo chambers that amplify our views. It's no accident that on some occasions, people of different political views cannot even understand one another. It's also no surprise that terrorist groups have been able to exploit social media to deadly effect. Welcome to the age of #Republic.
In this revealing book, New York Times bestselling author Cass Sunstein shows how today’s Internet is driving political fragmentation, polarization, and even extremism--and what can be done about it. He proposes practical and legal changes to make the Internet friendlier to democratic deliberation, showing that #Republic need not be an ironic term. Rather, it can be a rallying cry for the kind of democracy that citizens of diverse societies need most.