Barack Obama

Assorted Reactions to Cass Sunstein's Appointment as Obama's Regulation Czar Head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs

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The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial entitled "A Regulator With Promise—Really"

"Credit regulation raises immense challenges, and there is a serious danger that, in light of the current crisis, government regulators will overreact," Mr. Sunstein wrote in an op-ed on these pages last August. "The fundamental line of defense should be improving market competition, not eliminating it. And to improve competition, transparency is the place to start." That piece, co-authored with the University of Chicago's Richard Thaler, argued that better disclosure, combined with technology, would be more effective than playing "regulatory whack-a-mole" with unpopular industry practices.

Sunstein's own (co-own?) Nudgeblog:

And now a plea to reporters: Please don't call him the "regulation czar." […]

[I]t is worth mentioning that Sunstein started writing and thinking about regulation long before he turned to nudges and choice architecture. The behavioral bit may generate the big buzz, but Sunstein's deep understanding of regulatory issues extends far and wide. At Chicago, Sunstein taught a number of regulatory courses, including Theoretical Foundations of the Regulatory State; Regulation: What Works and What Doesn't; Employment and Labor Law; Environmental Law; Law, and Behavior and Regulation. And (surprise!) he's written plenty about these subjects.

Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds:

[H]is selection is a sign that Barack Obama's approach, despite all the New Deal symbolism of late, isn't likely to look much like that favored in the 1930s. Certainly if Obama were looking for a regulatory Commissar, Cass Sunstein wouldn't have been the one to pick.

Of course, this also illustrates how vapid the political talk about regulation and deregulation has been. Though Obama himself has characterized the Bush administration as a den of feckless deregulators, Bush was in fact the biggest regulator since fellow Republican Richard Nixon. And although the Reagan White House is often credited with bringing deregulation to Washington, two of the biggest deregulatory efforts–those involving airlines and the trucking industry–were actually creatures of the Carter era. (Carter also tried, with mixed success, to apply cost-benefit analysis to rulemaking). […]

So while conservatives and libertarians may not want to relax entirely, the Sunstein appointment shows that the Obama Administration is perhaps willing to look at new and less intrusive approaches to regulation, something that should make almost everyone (except, perhaps, a few lawyers with investments in business as usual) happy.

Tyler Cowen:

He is now married to Samantha Power and he once had a pet Rhodesian Ridgeback.  I have had many interactions with Cass Sunstein and he has been unfailing intelligent and gracious.

Cato's Thomas Firey:

The appointment is baffling, not because the Obama administration has chosen Sunstein (he is a first-rate thinker), but because Sunstein has (apparently) accepted it. OIRA chief is one of the most thankless jobs in Washington, and the office has historically shown itself to be a victim of the political winds no matter how sharp-minded and sincere the chief is.

Sunstein would probably not fit the label "libertarian," but he is, in his own way, a strong supporter of liberty.

Frank O'Donnell, at the Center for American Progress website:

It's unfair, of course, to paint the 54-year-old Sunstein as a complete clone of [John] Graham and the other Bush anti-regulatory zealots. Indeed, Sunstein has earned a reputation as a genuine progressive on some issues, arguing in 2004 for the implementation of a "Second Bill of Rights" promoted in January 1944 by Franklin D. Roosevelt, to guarantee the "right of every American to a job, a home, and medical care."

But as co-chair of the American Enterprise Institute Center for Regulatory and Market Studies advisory board, Sunstein works for one of the nation's most influential right-wing corporate anti-regulatory think tanks. In an interview last year with the Wall Street Journal, Sunstein said of Obama, "He's a University of Chicago Democrat, so he's very attuned to the virtue of free markets and the risks of free-market regulation. He's not an old-style Democrat who's excited about regulations for their own sake."

And in a long and pessimistic post well worth a read, Adam Thierer rakes through Sunstein's publications and sees alarmingly illiberal ideas:

In Republic.com, Sunstein argued that the Internet is destroying opportunities for a mingling of the masses and shared social experiences. The hyper-customization that specialized websites and online filtering technologies (blogs, portals, listservs, political websites, etc.) offer Americans is allowing citizens to create the equivalent of a highly personalized news retrieval service that Sunstein contemptuously refers to as "The Daily Me." […]

[W]hat irks Sunstein about "The Daily Me" is not the amazing new array of choices that the Internet offers Americans, it's that the Internet and all these new technologies allow citizens to filter information and tailor their viewing or listening choices to their own needs or desires. While [Nicholas] Negroponte welcomed that filtering and specialization function, Sunstein seems to live in fear of it, believing that it creates extreme social isolation and alienation. He argues that unrestrained individual choice is dangerous and must be checked or countered in the interests of "citizenship" and "democracy." In his own words: "A system of limitless individual choices, with respect to communications, is not necessarily in the interest of citizenship and self-government. Democratic efforts to reduce the resulting problems ought not be rejected in freedom's name."  […]

Far more problematic, however, is what Sunstein has suggested we should do to deal with this supposed problem. After Sunstein worked himself up to a boil about all this in Republic.com, he tossed out what I believe is the single most dangerous public policy idea for the Internet suggested in the past 10 years: mandatory "electronic sidewalks" for cyberspace.

Sunstein called for popular or partisan websites to be forced to carry links to opposing viewpoints.

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46 responses to “Assorted Reactions to Cass Sunstein's Appointment as Obama's Regulation Czar Head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs

  1. Not as good as the Carol Browner appointment, but it is a step in the right direction.

  2. I went to a talk he gave in 2004. I was not impressed.

  3. Could have done a lot worse, I expect.

    it’s that the Internet and all these new technologies allow citizens to filter information and tailor their viewing or listening choices to their own needs or desires.

    Whereas before, lefties had to pick up the NYT or turn on CNN/MSNBC where all that was done for them.

    Oddly, no one ever called for Pinch to be forced to give an opposing viewpoint.

  4. He’s not a libertarian.

    Still a major step in the right direction. About a billion times better than we could have hoped for, IMO.

  5. I’m starting to warm up to this guy Obama. If I’d known before the election what I know now, I would have voted for him.

  6. He’s not a libertarian.

    And neither are you!

  7. Sunstein called for popular or partisan websites to be forced to carry links to opposing viewpoints.

    Funny. A lot of these “partisan” websites he refers to spend a lot of their time battling other “partisan” websites and commenting on their commentary – links and all

  8. Drug Tsar, Intel Tsar, Regulation Tsar. There are so many Tsar out there I wonder who is watching the Tsars. Isn’t it time for a Tsar Tsar?

  9. Who’s watching the watchmen?

  10. Isnt Sunstein one of the libertarian paternalism kids?

  11. How long before we get ourselves our very own

    tsar tsar binks

    ?

    We already know he will be neither as artful nor as well-loved as his predecessor jar-jar, but what the heck.

    no hugs for thugs,
    Shirley Knott

  12. The Czar talk is uncomfortable for me but necessary to get the Imperialists to accept these modest moves toward Progressiveism.

  13. Sunstein has scared the $hit out of me since I first read about his ideas of “libertarian paternalism.”

    “He argues that unrestrained individual choice is dangerous and must be checked or countered in the interests of “citizenship” and “democracy.” ”

    So he wants to make us “better citizens” by forbidding us to make our own choices on what we want to read or not on the Internet? In that case, why just force websites to post links? Why not force everyone to read every viewpoint on every topic on the Internet every day? Or maybe do what the Soviet Union did and permit only one choice in everything – whatever the government decides is best for us. After all, it was so successful for the Russians. Why wouldn’t we want to give up our precious, hard-won freedom and let the government take care of us? It does such a good job at everything else, right? (And yes, this is sarcasm…)

  14. One czar to rule them all…

  15. Yo, fuck Cass Sunstein.

  16. Damn, phalkor, you’re supposed to be all pretentious and break out the latin. Didn’t you get the memo about proper use of Juvenal quotes on the intertubes?

    Anyhow, isn’t Sunstein the “libertarian paternalism” guy? There’s something about that whole argument that bothered me. Probably the idea that the default choices would be structured in a fashion to actually benefit the end user, instead of being driven by the usual imperatives that drive other regulatory behavior. Somehow, the default choice selection is going to be immune from the problems that plague all government regulation.

  17. T,

    Well, I really don’t see how “libertarian paternalism” deals effectively with the Hayekian knowledge problem.

  18. Libertarian Socialism is a step in our future path to Progressivism.

  19. More specifically, fuck libertarian paternalism. If it’s paternalism, it ain’t libertarian.

  20. T? I have the memo right here…but I can’t read it because it’s in Latin.

  21. You know, I think places of worship should be forced to accept ministers, etc. of other faiths (or non-faiths) into their worship services from time to time. 😉

  22. Seward, places of “worship” are just tools of Coprorations to control the masses. Especially the catholic ones.

  23. LurkerBold is SIV.

  24. I wish I could convince myself “libertarian paternalism” was an innocuous rephrasing of “incentives matter”. Unfortunately, it looks an awful lot like another liberal/progressive trying to tell me I just can’t be trusted to know what’s really good for me.

  25. I am suing LurkerBold for copyright infringement. I know nothing about copyright laws and have consistently denounced intellectual property, but I know I can sue him for stealing my style!

  26. # | January 12, 2009, 11:31am | #
    LurkerBold is SIV.

    I can and do occasionally troll at a far higher level than that loser.I have never even spoofed that troll.

  27. |, it’s impossible to spoof LurkerBold! I mean, how would you measure success?

  28. It’s like trolling Free Republic or Stormfront.

  29. Seward,

    As I understand things, “libertarian paternalism” really doesn’t address knowledge issues. Instead, Sunstein and Thaler’s argument seemed to be that the default choice should be one that is beneficial for the majority of participants. But this assumes the whoever is defining your choice space has some clue about what’s better or best, so the knowledge problem hasn’t been addressed at all. I would guess most people around here are probably like P. Brooks and think it’s just another smokescreen for full on paternalism. I can see the process of changing the default selection quickly becoming a near-endless series of hoops one would have to jump through.

  30. He may be on to something about this dangerous heterodox proliferation of choices, after all, if Sunstein were to submit all of his writings to me for approval before they went out to the general public, the public would be spared the dangerous heterodoxy of Sunstein’s ideas.

    Of course, Sunstein doesn’t recognize his writings to be one of those choices that may have dangerous repercussions inflicted upon the greater society and his words will surely be abused in the future to adversely effect the public (hence, the man is also being rewarded for gross irresponsibility).

    No, there is always that disconnect with the Communitarian minded (Sunstein, William Bennett) between the freedom to advocate the curtailing of freedom, a luxury afforded them by a libertarian oriented society, and the actual freedom of others.

  31. The puzzling thing about Sunstein’s philosophy, as far as I can gather, is that he’s interested in good government but not in limited government. So he’ll use the tools of economics and psychology (and even the language of Hayek) to try to avoid the unintended consequences of overzealous regulation, and to someone like me that’s very appealing.

    On the other hand, he’s quite comfortable with the notion that someone in government knows what’s best for the public — more civility on the internet, or more savings, or more fruits & veggies, or what have you. It is a communitarian philosophy. It places no value on individual freedom. And I do hope that his more ambitious plans never come to pass.

    The libertarian anti-regulatory argument normally has two parts:
    a). The government will never succeed in doing what it wants to do. (Perverse incentives, bad mechanism design, knowledge problems, etc.)
    b.) Even if it could succeed, the government should not limit our freedom of choice with this regulation.

    Sunstein is a remarkable researcher and he has many ideas for fixing a.), but I think he has no interest in b.)

  32. we all know that I’m not Lurkerbold because I’m a lot better at trolling when I do it

  33. Sunstein’s libertarian paternalism of course is the perfect fodder for the Naomi Kleins of this world. What could be a more perfect straw man to use to show that libertarianism is authoritarianism?

    Though appointing him as regulatory czar is an interesting proposition. It might actually result in reduced and more intelligent regulation, pushing things in a more libertarian direction while at the same time causing the Kleins of the world to foam at the mouth.

  34. b.) Even if it could succeed, the government should not limit our freedom of choice with this regulation.

    Add to that, the regulators interest and incentives are not the same as those of the legislatures who enacted the law. Hence, the proliferation of unaccountable administrative law where a few loose words in the authorizing document allows the agencies to run wild with how it chooses to interpret and expand upon.

    Also, add to this argument, the purpose of much regulation begins with an attempt to stifle competing (and usually smaller, politically unconnected) interests. What Goldman Sachs can deal with given the size of its legal staff is different from what your local bank can afford to deal with though they both fall under the same legal standard (esp. now they have had their legal standing changed to commercial banking) giving them an even greater advantage in the market place.

    But, it all for some greater, ‘egalitarian’ good so why do negative nabobs like libertarians question it?

  35. I am going to put LurkerBold and concerned observer into Pod A and they will come out in Pod B as one troll!!!

  36. LuconcerkneredobserBolder

    Darn that did not work out right.

  37. He is no libertarian, he is a paternalist of the old fashioned variety. The name of his blog, “nudgeblog” is a reference to his belief that people must be nudged into correct behavior by government. He of course considers himself wise enough to be able to both determine what “correct” behavior should be, and exactly how much to nudge people with taxes and regulatory demands in order to get it. He would be the most frightening of regulators, not someone who gets his rocks off ordering people around, but a true believer who thinks he can carve people into his ideal.

    1. “He of course considers himself wise enough to be able to both determine what “correct” behavior should be”

      Which marks him as cognitively imcompetent.

      He has not understood the knowledge problem, and he has not shown that he has the intellect and character necessary to do so.

  38. Darn that did not work out right.

    That depends; did its voice shift to a pitch inaccessible to the human ear?

  39. Remains to be seen.

  40. SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH!!!!!!!!!!!!

  41. the “right of every American to a job, a home, and medical care.”

  42. Commenting system ate my post!

    Sunnstein is so open minded his brains have spilled out.

  43. The name of his blog, “nudgeblog” is a reference to his belief that people must be nudged into correct behavior by government.

    He’ll need lots of luck. People are resistant to correct behavior enforced at gunpoint and the threat of jail time. I don’t see how a gentle nudge is going to get them going down the right path.

  44. He’ll need lots of luck. People are resistant to correct behavior enforced at gunpoint and the threat of jail time. I don’t see how a gentle nudge is going to get them going down the right path.

    We’re too stupid to realize we’re being manipulated by The Smart People.

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