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