Obama’s former “regulatory czar” examines the reforms that are beginning to transform the government and what they portend for the future.
In 2009, Harvard Law School professor Sunstein (A Constitution of Many Minds: Why the Founding Document Doesn't Mean What It Meant Before, 2009, etc.) became administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, “the cockpit of the regulatory state,” where he worked for the next three years. Sunstein was present during the first Reagan administration, when the office was established and its purposes defined. He writes about using the office to find ways to save lives and money and attempt to improve the quality of life. Sunstein is a partisan of behavioral economics and uses its methods in what he calls “nudges…approaches that influence decisions while preserving freedom of choice.” His mission, he writes, has been largely one of simplification: “fewer rules and more common sense.” Disclosure, whether in summary or fuller form, helps the process along, as does involvement of the public. For example, changes to the presentation of automobile fuel economy make the costs clearer over time, and the presentation of daily food requirements through the image of a plate, rather than a pyramid, makes for better understanding. Sunstein is a vigorous defender of the methods of cost-benefit analysis, both to determine what the costs really are and to figure out whether proposed changes or improvements will bring about net benefits. He has interesting insights about features of current partisan conflicts and the contradictory positions protagonists can find themselves in.
Sunstein’s firsthand knowledge and distinct humor give his account a real dynamism.