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Cass Sunstein

  • Don’t Ignore Costs of Coronavirus Regulation

    May 12, 2020

    An article by Cass SunsteinIn Congress and the executive branch, U.S. officials are about to face an unexpected dilemma, one that will define a range of domestic policy in the coming years, and that has the potential to redefine how Americans think about the modern regulatory state. On the one hand, the coronavirus pandemic has made it unmistakably clear that in some areas, the U.S. needs more regulation, especially to protect health and safety. On the other hand, the economic destruction it has caused will require new caution about costly regulatory mandates. Businesses, large and small, are facing unprecedented challenges. For many of them, survival is at stake, and expensive regulations might prove devastating. It is almost certain that the administration of President Donald Trump will be keenly alert to the second point, while neglecting the first. There’s also a risk that progressives — including those in charge if Joe Biden wins the White House in November — will be keenly alert to the first point, but insufficiently appreciative of the second. Over the past three years, Trump’s regulators have kept down the costs of new regulations. On an annual basis, those costs have been far lower than they were under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. (Regulatory costs were not officially documented before 1998.) The less good news is that Trump’s regulators have also produced unprecedentedly low benefits, a category that includes not only purely economic savings, but also reductions in death and disease.

  • Why Presidential Lies Are Even Worse Than They Seem

    May 6, 2020

    An article by Cass SunsteinPresident Donald Trump is a liar — hardly the first but certainly the worst among U.S. presidents. By one count, he has made about 18,000 false or misleading claims, an unmistakable sign of his willingness to deceive. His supporters do not seem especially bothered. They focus on what Trump does, not on whether he tells the truth. Which raises a question: Is presidential lying really so bad? Actually, it’s worse than bad, and for reasons much broader than the dangerous confusion it has sown during the coronavirus pandemic. To see why, let us consult two moral traditions that have explored what's wrong with lying, and what makes it so corrosive. The first is rooted in the work of Immanuel Kant, the 18th-century German philosopher who emphasized the importance of treating people as ends rather than mere means. The second comes from Jeremy Bentham, Kant’s younger British contemporary and the founder of utilitarianism.

  • The Democrats Are Divided, Just Not in the Way We Think

    April 30, 2020

    An article by Cass SunsteinDemocrats have been rallying around former Vice President Joe Biden, but they are struggling with serious internal divisions. The more you examine what they’re actually saying, the more you see that it is hopelessly inadequate to say, as most people are doing, that some Democrats are in the center while others are on the left. If you hope to understand the tensions within American progressivism — and most Democrats do qualify as progressive to one degree or another — your best bet is to explore the work of three influential writers from a century ago, when the U.S. saw a flowering of left-wing thinking. The first was Walter Lippmann, who believed in scientists and experts, and who wanted to solve the nation’s problems by increasing their role in American government. The second was Max Eastman, who focused on economic inequality, class conflict and the rights of working people. The third was Randolph Bourne, who emphasized, and celebrated, separate social identities, and who wanted to ensure that no social group would be subordinated to another. The three offered radically different diagnoses of what ails our country — and radically different prescriptions. The deepest splits within the Democratic Party reflect not some center-to-left continuum, but their competing legacies.

  • Constitution May Block Progressives on Wealth Tax

    April 24, 2020

    An article by Cass SunsteinDebates about the idea of a wealth tax are suddenly sounding a lot less hypothetical. With massive expenditures related to the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. needs to find ways to raise revenue. And with the economic burdens of the calamity falling disproportionately on the less affluent, income inequality has only become more glaring. No wonder the call to target the richest has increasing appeal. But is a wealth tax constitutional? It’s a question legal scholars have long discussed. Unfortunately, the answer is elusive. For that reason alone, there is a good argument that progressives should focus on other options – such as imposing higher income taxes on the wealthy and closing the many loopholes that benefit them. Let’s start with the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1913, which provides: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” If Congress wants to raise rates on the wealthy, it’s perfectly entitled to do that. Notably, however, the 16th Amendment is limited to “taxes on incomes,” so it does not authorize wealth taxes.

  • ‘How do we overcome fear?’ Americans need confidence before life can return to normal.

    April 20, 2020

    Danny Meyer — restaurateur and founder of Shake Shack — said he is already envisioning the changes he will make when he finally gets the green light to reopen his restaurant empire. Kitchen employees will have to wear masks and not only have their temperature taken, but also look their manager in the eye and verbally confirm they are feeling healthy...Last week, President Trump released a set of guidelines for beginning to reopen the country amid the coronavirus pandemic. But what Trump says won’t much matter if skittish elected leaders, business owners and customers don’t trust that they will be safe returning to their daily lives — and at the moment, most Americans don’t have that confidence. In a poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, three-quarters of U.S. adults said the worst is yet to come with the novel coronavirus, and two-thirds were worried that restrictions would be lifted too soon...Cass Sunstein, a professor at Harvard Law School and a former adviser to President Barack Obama, said people’s behavior will hinge in part on how trustworthy they view the leader offering the guidance. “If the governor seems to be credible on the health topic,” Sunstein said, people are far more likely to be reassured “than if the governor seems to be responding to political pressure or seems to be scared of something.” But, he added, community signals will also be crucial. “What do people see people like them doing?” Sunstein asked. “If people see everyone else staying home, they tend to think that’s the right thing to do, and they see everyone going out, they tend to think, ‘Well, I should go out, too.’”

  • What Is a ‘Very Good Job’ on Coronavirus Deaths?

    April 20, 2020

    An article by Cass SunsteinHow many Americans are going to die from the coronavirus? How will we know if the national government or the states have done a commendable job or a terrible one? Here’s a comment from President Donald Trump in late March: "So you’re talking about 2.2 million deaths, 2.2 million people from this. And so if we could hold that down, as we’re saying, to 100,000. It’s a horrible number, maybe even less — but to 100,000. So we have between 100 and 200,000, and we altogether have done a very good job." Do you see what Trump did there? It’s called “anchoring,” and it’s one of the most important findings in behavioral science. People who have been involved in real estate, like Trump, are often experts in the use of anchors. Trump specified an anchor (2.2 million deaths), and he used it to support his claim that if 100,000 to 200,000 Americans end up dying, he has “done a very good job.” Whenever the goal is to affect people’s evaluations, it’s smart to get a particular number in their heads, whether it involves pricing property or estimating deaths. That number often sticks. It influences their judgments about what’s likely or what’s fair, and about what counts as a successful outcome or instead a disaster.

  • Why Is Trump Gutting Regulations That Save Lives?

    April 17, 2020

    An article by Cass SunsteinSince Jan. 30, 2017, the Trump administration’s approach to federal regulation has been defined by a simple requirement: “one in, two out.” The basic idea, set out in one of President Trump’s first executive orders, is that whenever a federal agency issues one regulation, it has to take at least two regulations away — and produce an incremental cost, on the private sector, of zero. The idea was absurd from the very start. It was profoundly demoralizing to experts in federal agencies, who know a lot about science and who have plenty of good ideas about how to protect public health and safety. But its absurdity has been put in a whole new light by the Covid-19 pandemic, which demonstrates that the regulatory state is no enemy of the people — and that smart safeguards, designed by specialists, save lives. It is true that to many people, the one-in, two-out idea has a lot of intuitive appeal. For one thing, it instructs regulators — at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Health and Human Services and elsewhere — to get rid of outmoded or dumb regulations. If we want to free up the private sector from regulations that do more harm than good, it might make sense to insist: If you want to do something new, you had better get rid of something old. But there is a subtler point. Mr. Trump clearly wanted to slow the issuance of new regulations. The one-in, two-out principle is well suited to achieving that goal.

  • Can Trump Delay the 2020 Election? Here’s What the Constitution Says

    April 14, 2020

    An article by Cass SunsteinIt is alarming, to say the least, that people are even asking this question: Does President Donald Trump have the legal authority to postpone or cancel the 2020 presidential election? The answer is entirely clear: He does not. Start with the Constitution itself: “The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.” The founding document reflects an unambiguous judgment that Congress, and not a potentially self-interested president, gets to decide when the leader of the United States shall be chosen. If the president could set the time of his own election, he could specify a date that is favorable to him – or postpone a specified date until the conditions are just right. Congress has exercised the authority that the Constitution gives it. A law enacted in 1948 says this: "The electors of President and Vice President shall be appointed, in each State, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November, in every fourth year succeeding every election of a President and Vice President." A finicky reader might respond: Those provisions are about selection of members of the Electoral College. What does that have to do with the popular vote? The answer is that the two are inextricably intertwined.

  • As With Cigarettes and Seat Belts, Face Mask Expectations Will Change

    April 10, 2020

    An article by Cass SunsteinIt has been almost a week since the Trump administration recommended that all Americans wear masks, or some face coverings, in public to protect against the spread of coronavirus. But the president himself is still not following that advice. As he put it, “Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I just don't see it." Why doesn’t he “see it”? To answer that question, let’s ask another one. If you pass a neighbor on the street or in a grocery store, and if he’s wearing a mask, what do you think? Here are some possibilities: 1. He has coronavirus. 2. He is far more frightened than he should be. 3. He looks weird. 4. He is being prudent. 5. He is simply following the government’s recent recommendations. All over the country, people who wear masks are still producing reactions 1, 2 or 3. To be sure, those reasons were more common a few weeks ago than they are now -- but they continue to be widespread. Here’s the problem: If you know you’re going to produce one of the first three reactions, you’re less likely to wear a mask, even if it’s a sensible thing to do.

  • We need smart solutions to mitigate the coronavirus’s impact. Here are 16.

    April 6, 2020

    The coronavirus crisis has upended American life, and fresh ideas are needed for dealing with the problems it’s creating. Here is a collection of smart solutions... "House mild cases in hotels" by Jeremy Samuel Faust and Cass Sunstein: One of the toughest decisions facing physicians and public health officials is where to send patients who test positive for the covid-19 coronavirus. For the small but significant proportion with severe or critical illness, the decision to hospitalize is trivial. But where to send the apparently large majority of cases that are mild or even symptom-free? These patients, often young, need to be isolated to reduce spread. But using a hospital bed for isolation alone takes up capacity, puts others at risk and chews through protective equipment that doctors, nurses and other staff desperately need. A natural alternative is to send people home, with clear instructions to self-isolate. But in some cases that is not feasible, and it poses evident risks. The World Health Organization recommends placing mildly ill patients in dedicated covid-19 facilities as the gold standard for isolation. While countries such as China have the logistical capability to erect new hospitals for this purpose in a matter of days, most places cannot achieve that. Fortunately, there is a potential answer: America’s prodigious hotel industry. And in case you haven’t noticed, there is plenty of room at the inn.

  • The War on Coronavirus Is Also a War on Paperwork

    April 6, 2020

    An article by Cass SunsteinAs part of the war on coronavirus, U.S. regulators are taking aggressive steps against “sludge” – paperwork burdens and bureaucratic obstacles. This new battle front is aimed at eliminating frictions, or administrative barriers, that have been badly hurting doctors, nurses, hospitals, patients, and beneficiaries of essential public and private programs. Increasingly used in behavioral science, the term sludge refers to everything from form-filling requirements to time spent waiting in line to rules mandating in-person interviews imposed by both private and public sectors. Sometimes those burdens are justified – as, for example, when the Social Security Administration takes steps to ensure that those who receive benefits actually qualify for them. But far too often, sludge is imposed with little thought about its potentially devastating impact. The coronavirus pandemic is concentrating the bureaucratic mind – and leading to impressive and brisk reforms. Consider a few examples.

  • Detail of Austin Hall

    Harvard Law excels in SSRN citation rankings

    April 6, 2020

    Statistics released by the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) indicate that, as of the beginning of 2020, Harvard Law School faculty members featured prominently on SSRN’s list of the most-cited law professors.

  • The Siren of Selfishness

    April 3, 2020

    A book review by Cass SunsteinAs a teenager, I fell for Ayn Rand. More precisely, I fell for her novels. Reading The Fountainhead at the age of fourteen, I was overwhelmed by the intensity and passion of Rand’s heroic characters. Who could forget the indomitable Howard Roark? His face was like a law of nature—a thing one could not question, alter or implore. It had high cheekbones over gaunt, hollow cheeks; gray eyes, cold and steady; a contemptuous mouth, shut tight, the mouth of an executioner or a saint. Roark was defined by his fierce independence: “I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life,” he says in the novel. “Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need.” Like countless teenage boys, I aspired to be like Roark. And I found Rand’s heroine, Dominique Francon, irresistible.

  • Why Coronavirus (and Other) Falsehoods Are Believable

    April 1, 2020

    An article by Cass SunsteinSports fans have been thrilled to learn that Major League Baseball will be back in May. Okay, that’s false. But if you’re like most people, that false statement will linger in your memory, making you think, in some part of your mind, that baseball might indeed be returning pretty soon. (Sorry!) The broader phenomenon is something that psychologists call “truth bias”: People show a general tendency to think that statements are truthful, even if they have good reason to disbelieve those statements. If, for example, people are provided with information that has clearly been discredited, they might nonetheless rely on that information in forming their judgments. Similarly, people are more likely to misremember, as true, a statement that they have been explicitly told is false than to misremember, as false, a statement that they have been explicitly told is true. It follows that if you are told that some public official is a liar and a crook, you might continue to believe that even after you learn that she’s perfectly honest. And if you are told that if you’re under the age of 50, you really don’t need to worry about the coronavirus, you might hold onto that belief, at least in some part of your mind, even after you are informed that people under 50 can get really sick.

  • This Time the Numbers Show We Can’t Be Too Careful

    March 27, 2020

    An article by Cass SunsteinI have long been an enthusiastic defender of quantitative cost-benefit analysis, and recently wrote a book about it. I have also long been a critic of the precautionary principle, which calls for potentially expensive precautions against bad outcomes in the face of scientific uncertainty. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s unusually challenging to engage in quantitative cost-benefit analysis. But the best available estimates, released within the last few days, suggest that the U.S. should continue with expensive precautions, even if they take a major economic toll. Back to normal by Easter, as President Donald Trump suggested? The new estimates show that that would be reckless. To adapt Patrick Henry, “Give me precautions, or give me death.” It should be acknowledged that Trump, and many others, have been right to emphasize the importance of balancing a range of considerations, and not focusing only on one. Some people in the public-health community like to look only at one side of the ledger. But a zero-risk mentality makes no sense.

  • Cigarette Warnings Are About to Get Really Scary

    March 25, 2020

    An article by Cass SunsteinDire as the coronavirus pandemic has become, it’s worth remembering that there are other severe public health threats that can’t be ignored. That’s a reason to applaud the Food and Drug Administration for issuing, even in this period, a tough new tobacco regulation that should save lives: It has required graphic warnings on cigarette packages. Whenever customers buy a pack of cigarettes, or stop to contemplate buying one, they will see one of 11 gruesome images, accompanied by a grim verbal message. The image might be a woman with a large neck tumor, alongside these words: “Smoking causes head and neck cancer.” Or it might be a diseased lung, with these words: “Tobacco smoke causes fatal lung disease in nonsmokers.” Or it might be an obviously diseased body of a patient, with these words: “Smoking can cause heart disease and strokes by clogging arteries.” The images cannot be small: “The new required warnings must appear prominently on cigarette packages and in cigarette advertisements, occupying the top 50 percent of the front and rear panels of cigarette packages and at least 20 percent of the area at the top of advertisements,” the FDA states.

  • When It Comes to Workplace Safety, Shaming Works

    March 13, 2020

    An article by Cass Sunstein: Can a press release save lives? No doubt about it. At least if it comes from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and it publicizes a serious violation of the occupational safety and health laws. The tale begins in 2009, when OSHA initiated a new policy: If one of its inspections found sufficiently serious workplace safety violations (warranting a fine of at least $40,000), it would issue a press release, identifying the violator. According to David Michaels, the OSHA administrator at the time, press releases would be a form of “regulation of shaming.” Michaels’s hope was that the releases would have “educational and deterrent purposes for other companies in the same industry and geographic area.”

  • The Right Way for Presidents to Address ‘Fear Itself’

    March 13, 2020

    An article by Cass Sunstein: The coronavirus epidemic has produced several different kinds of crises. It is of course a public health crisis, first and foremost. But it’s also an economic crisis, an international-relations crisis and a crisis of public morale. Fear is widespread and mounting. There was no pandemic, of course, but the economic crisis was incomparably worse. And the crisis of public morale, though also much worse, had similar features. The U.S. has not been here before, but it has been in the vicinity. In some ways, the closest analogy is to the Great Depression.

  • Supreme Court Should Mend, Not End, Independent Agencies

    March 4, 2020

    An article by Cass Sunstein: The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday in the most important separation-of-powers case in several decades. The central issue is simple: Did Congress violate the Constitution in making the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau independent of the president when it created that agency in 2009? Under the law as it now stands, the president can fire the bureau’s director only for “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.” Whether that restriction is constitutional bears on the entire structure of the U.S. government. Many federal agencies are “executive,” in the sense that their heads work for the president and can be discharged for whatever reasons he likes. That’s true, for example, of the Departments of State, Defense, Transportation, Agriculture, Justice, Education, Energy, Labor, Interior, Treasury and Commerce. It’s also true of the Environmental Protection Agency.

  • Supreme Court to hear case over constitutionality of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

    March 2, 2020

    The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Tuesday in a case over whether the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the regulatory agency established in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, is constitutionally structured. The case, key to the future of the CFPB, could also have broad implications on other independent federal agencies, according to experts. A decision is expected by the end of June. The dispute turns on whether the CFPB’s director is given too much independence... Herz said the case took on a new significance because of the controversy over the sentencing last month of Republican operative Roger Stone, a friend of the president who was convicted crimes related to witness tampering and lying to Congress. After Trump suggested on Twitter that the sentence sought by the Justice Department was too stiff, top DOJ officials overruled career prosecutors in order to seek a more lenient sentence. That move prompted all the Justice Department attorneys working on the case to remove themselves from it in a shocking mass exodus. The developments came as some scholars, including Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein, have proposed that Congress make the Justice Department an independent agency.

  • The Cognitive Bias That Makes Us Panic About Coronavirus

    March 2, 2020

    An article by Cass SunsteinAt this stage, no one can specify the magnitude of the threat from the coronavirus. But one thing is clear: A lot of people are more scared than they have any reason to be. They have an exaggerated sense of their own personal risk. How come? The best answer goes by an unlovely name: “probability neglect.” Suppose that a potential outcome grips your emotions, maybe because it is absolutely terrifying, maybe because it is amazingly wonderful. If so, there is an excellent chance that you will focus on it -- and pay far less attention than you should to a crucial question, which is how likely it is to occur. One of the simplest and most vivid demonstrations comes from Christopher Hsee of the University of Chicago and Yuval Rottenstreich of the University of California at San Diego. They asked a group of people how much they would pay to avoid a 1% chance of a “short, painful, but not dangerous electric shock.” They asked another, similar group of people how much they would pay to avoid a 99% chance of getting such a shock. There’s a massive difference between a 1% chance and a 99% chance. But people didn’t register that difference. To avoid a 1% chance of an electric shock, the median amount that people were willing to pay was $7. To avoid a 99% chance, the number was $10 – not a whole lot higher.

  • There’s an Alarming Statistic in Trump’s Record on Regulations

    February 27, 2020

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: After an unprecedented delay, the Donald Trump administration has released what is required by law to be an annual report on the costs and benefits of federal regulations. The good news in this important document is that in the last two years, the costs of federal regulations have been stunningly low. The less good news is that in the last two years, the benefits of federal regulations have been...stunningly low. A central reason is that in this period, relatively few regulations have been issued that had a significant economic impact.

  • How Will Trump’s Supreme Court Remake America?

    February 27, 2020

    In October, the Supreme Court heard a lawsuit from Stephens challenging her termination based on Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of “sex.” ... Gorsuch ignored that research, citing only a minority of scholars who agree with him. “I admire Justice Gorsuch’s writing,” Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor and former Obama-administration official, told me. “But his discussion in Gundy isn’t close to historical standards. There’s a ton of terrific work on the nondelegation doctrine, and he cites none of it. Then there is some not-terrific material, which he does cite.”

  • The Delicate Art of Debunking Conspiracy Theories

    February 10, 2020

    An article by Cass SunsteinHow do you debunk a conspiracy theory? Suppose people think that Israel carried out the 9/11 attacks or that the moon landing was faked. Or that Koch money or Hillary Clinton or Pete Buttigieg was behind the Iowa caucus fiasco, or that the coronavirus comes from a fiendish plot by multinational corporations. Conspiracy theorists tend to be emotionally invested in their beliefs, meaning that if you contradict them, you might make them angry. And if you offer them evidence that they’re wrong, you might make them angrier still – and so strengthen their commitment to their belief. Social scientists have found that, in some contexts, corrections actually backfire. If, for example, people still think that the Affordable Care Act contains death panels, a correction can make those people even more certain that the law contains death panels. One reason is that when people are told they’re wrong, they are immediately put on the defensive, and they work hard to defend their beliefs. Another reason is pure suspicion: Why would anyone bother to deny it, if it isn’t true?

  • Beware the Revenge Impeachment

    January 31, 2020

    An article by Cass Sunstein: Former Solicitor General and federal judge Kenneth Starr made a simple argument this week on behalf of President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense. We are living in the “age of impeachment,” he said on Monday, urging the Senate to acquit Trump and “return to norms” that counsel against using impeachment as a political weapon. If Trump is removed from office, Starr was suggesting, every future president will be vulnerable, at least if the House of Representatives is controlled by the opposing political party, and if the Senate can be persuaded to go along. A president named Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren might well be exposed to a horrific impeachment battle, simply because of the Trump precedent.

  • What if It Were Obama on Trial?

    January 27, 2020

    What if it were President Barack Obama who was the subject of the Senate impeachment trial? How would we feel then? Cass Sunstein, a professor at Harvard Law School, suggests a question along those lines in his book “Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide.” It’s one of several thought experiments that I suggest in order to step back from the hurly-burly in the Senate and interrogate our own principles and motivations. The first approach, as Sunstein puts it, is this: “Suppose that a president engages in certain actions that seem to you very, very bad. Suppose that you are tempted to think that he should be impeached. You should immediately ask yourself: Would I think the same thing if I loved the president’s policies, and thought that he was otherwise doing a splendid job?” Alternatively, if you oppose impeachment and removal, Sunstein suggests you ask yourself: “Would I think the same thing if I abhorred the president’s policies, and thought that he was otherwise doing a horrific job?” In practical terms, this amounts to: What if it were Obama who had been caught in this Ukraine scandal?

  • Airfare Transparency Made the Free Market Freer

    January 24, 2020

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: Have you ever shopped online for something (say, a hotel room) and selected an option with an excellent price only to learn, at the time of checkout, that the price is much higher than originally advertised? That happens a lot. A key reason is that advertised prices often exclude taxes and fees. Even if there is some disclosure of that fact (“taxes and fees not included”), consumers might not pay attention. Having initially seen a reasonable price and settled on their choice, a lot of them just put in their credit card number even if, at the final stage, they are shocked to see the unexpectedly high cost. In these circumstances, new research suggests that disclosure regulation can do a lot of good.

  • How people decide what they want to know

    January 16, 2020

    When we live in an age of information, what information do we choose to absorb? And once we have absorbed information, which factors influence how we process it? Cass Sunstein ’78, the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard, examines those questions in a study published this week in the scientific journal Nature Human Behaviour. The paper, “How people decide what they want to know,” was co-authored by Tali Sharot, a professor of cognitive neuroscience in the department of Experimental Psychology at University College London. ... Sunstein discussed his research with Harvard Law Today in an email interview that took place this week as he was en route to London.

  • Cass Sunstein

    How people decide what they want to know

    January 16, 2020

    In an interview with Harvard Law Today, Cass Sunstein discussed his research, and a recently published paper on how people decide what they do or do not want to know.

  • In the ER? Sign up to vote

    January 13, 2020

    An op-ed by Alister Martin and Cass R. Sunstein: What if long emergency room wait times, an unfortunate fact of life, could also be a key to increasing voter participation among traditionally underrepresented groups in our electorate? The demographic overlap between those who most use the ER for their health care and those who don’t vote presents a potential opportunity. In 2014, a US Census Bureau report found that nearly 1 in 4 Americans were not registered to vote. That’s over 51 million potential voting-age adults, or more than the entire population of Spain, who were not registered to vote in the United States.

  • Facebook’s Laudable Deepfake Ban Doesn’t Go Far Enough

    January 9, 2020

    An article by Cass Sunstein: Facebook says that it is banning “deepfakes,” those high-tech doctored videos and audios that are essentially indistinguishable from the real thing. That’s excellent news — an important step in the right direction. But the company didn’t go quite far enough, and important questions remain. Policing deepfakes isn’t simple. As Facebook pointed out in its announcement this week, media can be manipulated for benign reasons, for example to make video sharper and audio clearer. Some forms of manipulation are clearly meant as jokes, satires, parodies or political statements — as, for example, when a rock star or politician is depicted as a giant. That’s not Facebook’s concern.

  • Samantha Power '99 standing outside her house in Boston

    The Journey of an Idealist

    January 7, 2020

    Ambassador Samantha Power ’99 reflects on her life and career in her new memoir "The Education of an Idealist."

  • Illustration of two rows of three people in suits, one person in the middle of the second row with a bowtie

    Faculty Books in Brief: Winter 2020

    January 7, 2020

    From conformity and the power of social influences to felony and the guilty mind in Medieval England

  • Hate the Donor, Love the Donation

    January 6, 2020

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: Suppose that a nation, a company or an individual wants to give a lot of money to a university, a nonprofit group or an individual researcher. Suppose that many people think that the potential donor is morally abhorrent, or has done morally abhorrent things. Is it wrong to take the money?

  • 2019’s Best Movies (for Lessons in Behavioral Economics)

    January 2, 2020

    An article by Cass SunsteinHere’s what movie fans and insiders have been waiting for: the 2019 winners of the Behavioral Economics Oscars, known as the Becons. Isabelle Huppert, Daniel Day-Lewis, Ryan Gosling and Jessica Chastain – where would they be without a prestigious Becon? This year has been a spectacular one for movies, and the secretive Becons Award Committee (said, by some, to consist of just one person) has had to make some especially tough choices.

  • Alexander Hamilton Had Faith in a ‘Dignified’ Senate Trial

    December 19, 2019

    An article by Cass Sunstein: Senator McConnell, meet Alexander Hamilton. In the last weeks, a lot of people who followed the hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives became familiar with Hamilton's definition of an impeachable offense as "the abuse of violation of some public trust." But nearly everyone has neglected Hamilton's brisk, essential discussion of the obligations of the U.S. Senate in impeachment trials - a discussion that casts a bright light on what Republicans and Democrats are obliged to do. The date was March 7, 1788. The occasion was the Federalist Papers - specifically, No. 65.

  • Don’t Fear the United States of Impeachment

    December 12, 2019

    An article by Cass SunsteinSuppose that you believe (as I do) that President Donald Trump has abused his power and thus committed impeachable offenses. If so, you should take one concern very seriously: As the House of Representatives proceeds, there’s a risk that the nation will become the United States of Impeachment. Fortunately, the risk is diminished by the narrowness of the current text of the two articles of impeachment that were released on Tuesday. The first article focuses solely and narrowly on the effort to influence Ukraine to announce a criminal investigation of Joe Biden and of “a discredited theory promoted by Russia alleging that Ukraine – rather than Russia – interfered in the 2016 United States Presidential election.” The second article focuses solely and narrowly on obstruction of Congress through Trump’s categorical refusal to respond to its impeachment inquiry.

  • The First Green New Deal Worked. Now We Need a Second One.

    December 9, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein; What if the U.S. already had a Green New Deal, and nobody noticed? Between 2009 and 2016, that’s exactly what happened. The U.S. government did a great deal to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Without a lot of fanfare, it restructured major components of the national economy in the process. Here are a few highlights: - The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation required both cars and trucks to become a lot more fuel-efficient. The greening of the fleet produced substantial cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions.

  • The ABC’s of Impeachment: The Law Vs. Politics

    December 5, 2019

    For another look at the story we've been covering all day. The House Judiciary Committee's first hearing on the impeachment inquiry. For more on what the law says about impeachment, we spoke to Cass Sunstein, Harvard Law Professor & Author of 'Impeachment: A Citizen's Guide'.

  • The First Green New Deal Worked. Now We Need a New One.

    December 5, 2019

    An article by Cass Sunstein: What if the U.S. already had a Green New Deal, and nobody noticed? Between 2009 and 2016, that’s exactly what happened. The U.S. government did a great deal to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Without a lot of fanfare, it restructured major components of the national economy in the process...A more ambitious step, going well beyond the first Green New Deal, would be to introduce new legislation calling for carbon taxes, the best and most efficient way to reduce carbon emissions. The political obstacles would be formidable, but such taxes – starting low and increasing over time – could be a major part of a legislative climate package in early 2021.

  • Trump Impeachment Is Based on Law, Not Politics

    December 3, 2019

    An article by Cass SunsteinWith the coming impeachment vote in the House and a possible trial in the Senate, the U.S. has reached a rare defining moment...In the Federalist No. 65, Hamilton explained that impeachment is designed for offenses proceeding “from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.” That explanation was designed to assure We the People that their president, repository of the executive power, would not be a king.

  • How Dogs and People Ended Up Ruling the World

    November 26, 2019

    An article by Cass Sunstein: Where do dogs come from? What is their relationship to wolves? Where do Homo sapiens come from? What is our relationship to other human species such as Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo erectus? Why do dogs flourish as wolves struggle to survive? Why are we the only remaining humans? New research suggests that these diverse questions have a single answer. In brief: Dogs are far less likely than wolves to respond to challenges with violence (or by running away). Or, in more technical terms, they show low levels of “reactive aggression” in social interactions. As compared to extinct human species, Homo sapiens show precisely the same thing. As a result, we — you and I — are uniquely capable of trust and cooperation. That’s the basis of our evolutionary triumph.

  • The History and Meaning Of Impeachment

    November 18, 2019

    This week brought the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Next week, they will continue with many more witnesses set to testify. The hearings have been long – at times riveting, at times tedious — with partisan bickering on full display. They are also historic. It’s a rare thing for Congress to use this tool crafted by the framers to hold the president’s power in check. My guest, Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein, says that’s a good thing. Sunstein is the author of “Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide.” Diane spoke with Sunstein Friday morning as Marie Yovanovitch testified in Congress. She asked what our founding documents say should – and should not – be considered an impeachable offense.

  • What If Trump Actually Believed That Biden Was Corrupt?

    November 15, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: For all the rhetoric and theatrics, the first day of public impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives on Wednesday produced a surprising amount of light. Let’s put partisanship to one side and try to find that light, isolating the relevant issues of law and fact, and bracketing the question of whether Donald Trump is a terrific president or a terrible one. Everyone agrees that if Trump withheld U.S. military aid from Ukraine in order to encourage it to combat corruption in general, there would be no problem. At the same time, almost everyone seems to agree that Trump should be held to account if (1) he withheld the funds from Ukraine in order to get it to mount a baseless criminal investigation of a political rival, Joe Biden, or Biden’s son, Hunter, and (2) Ukraine did in fact launch that investigation.

  • Harvard Legal Scholar Brings Historical Perspective to Impeachment Process

    November 12, 2019

    Cass Sunstein, a professor at Harvard Law School and one of the nation's top administrative legal scholars, spoke about the constitutional history of impeachment at a Harvard Coop lecture last Thursday...Sunstein's lecture was primarily focused on providing a historical perspective on the impeachment process. He explained how there was a great deal of debate amongst the Founders regarding how impeachment should be defined in the U.S. Constitution. "Virginia's [Constitutional Convention delegate] George Mason was the most eloquent. He said 'No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued... Shall any man be above Justice? Above all shall that man be above it, who can commit the most extensive injustice?'"...Sunstein did turn to the question of President Trump's impeachability during the Q and A portion of the event. He said that many of the previous concerns over Trump's presidency — that he's unfit for the office, that he's violating the oath of office — don't meet the threshold for impeachable offenses.

  • Trump Tax Case Should Be an Easy Supreme Court Call

    November 10, 2019

    An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: Some observers are wondering whether the Supreme Court will let President Donald Trump keep his tax records secret. With respect to presidential prerogatives, many fundamental issues remain open. Perhaps the current court will resolve this one in his favor? That's unlikely. Whatever one's political convictions, it's hard to object, on strictly legal grounds, to a federal appeals court decision this week rejecting Trump's effort to block a subpoena issued by New York prosecutors demanding the records. In fact, the case is so simple and straightforward that it wouldn't be terribly surprising if the justices decline to consider it at all.

  • Grondahl: Constitutional scholar outlines impeachable offenses

    November 5, 2019

    Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law School professor and a leading constitutional law scholar, has written one of the most compelling books on impeachment. Just don’t ask him if President Donald Trump should be impeached. “Of course he should be,” Sunstein writes in the preface to a newly reprinted edition of his book, “Impeachment: A Citizen's Guide.” He adds, “He obstructed justice not once but ten times.” In the next paragraph Sunstein writes: “Alternatively: Of course he shouldn’t be. The very question is ridiculous.” He adds, “This book does not choose between these two views. It does not say whether President Donald Trump should be impeached.”

  • Conservatives Know the Value of Thinking Locally

    November 4, 2019

    An article by Cass Sunstein:  What divides the right and the left? Not 50 years ago, or 20 or even 10 years ago, but right now? Here’s one speculation: Conservatives tend to be localists; they focus on their families, their towns, their states and their nation. Progressives are far more likely to be universalists who focus on human beings as such. New evidence strongly supports this speculation, and explains a lot about current political divisions, not only in the U.S. and Canada but also in Europe and elsewhere. It also offers concrete lessons for aspiring politicians, whether they’re on the right or the left.

  • Congress Can Help Lower Your Hotel Bills

    November 4, 2019

    An article by Cass Sunstein:  Why is it that when you check out of a hotel the bill is always so much larger than expected? It’s the assortment of unexpected fees — resort fees, destination fees, cleaning fees, hotel fees and more — that no one mentions until you’re leaving. Congress wants to do something about this. The House of Representatives is considering legislation that would increase transparency by requiring a room’s advertised rate to include all mandatory fees except those imposed by government. This bipartisan Hotel Transparency Act of 2019 is a terrific idea.

  • Conservatives Know the Value of Thinking Locally

    October 29, 2019

    An article by Cass Sunstein: What divides the right and the left? Not 50 years ago, or 20 or even 10 years ago, but right now? Here’s one speculation: Conservatives tend to be localists; they focus on their families, their towns, their states and their nation. Progressives are far more likely to be universalists who focus on human beings as such. New evidence strongly supports this speculation, and explains a lot about current political divisions, not only in the U.S. and Canada but also in Europe and elsewhere. It also offers concrete lessons for aspiring politicians, whether they’re on the right or the left. The relevant studies were conducted by a team of researchers led by Northwestern University’s Adam Waytz and including New York University’s Jonathan Haidt, who has done the defining work on the differences between conservatives and progressives. Their principal finding is that conservatives show a clear preference for tighter and “more defined” social circles, emphasizing “their immediate social groups,” while progressives favor looser circles, and express “compassion toward individuals broadly construed.”