The world’s most prolific intellectual trespasser.
Recently awarded Holberg Prize, Cass Sunstein has two books coming up- one with Daniel Kahneman called Noise and another The Cost Benefit Revolution. It is amazing how writing is to Cass Sunstein as easy as breathing is for the rest of us, forty eight books and numerous articles, still counting.
His books focuses on timely themes as is the following recently published book.
“The American constitutional order is meant to create a deliberative democracy, in which debate and discussion accompany accountability. This is not merely a system of majority rule, through which majorities get to do as they like simply because they are majorities. Reason-giving is central, and a deliberative democracy gives reasons.”
Sunstein, Cass R.. Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide
For Discussion: What are your favorite Cass Sunstein books- ours are Designing Democracy: What Constitutions Do, The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes, Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge, Simpler: The Future of Government and of course, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.
Do you have any distinctive habits or superstitions associated with the writing process? Do you have a magic hat you wear?
I think the most distinctive habit I have is that I don’t need any startup time to write. If my class ends at 2:30 p.m., I’ll talk to the students, answer their questions until 2:45, and then I can be writing right after. Some days I have my next class at 5 and if I prepared the day before, I need another 45 minutes or so to prepare right before class, so between 3 and 4:15 I can be writing. The habit I’ve developed is to write in any free half hour I might find.
He’s so prolific, it’s become a running joke, like an academic Joyce Carol Oates. A couple of professors recently published a paper called “Six Degrees of Cass Sunstein” about how every scholar can be linked to him through his papers. “He wakes up in the morning,” says Power, “and the first thing he does is reach over to the laptop by his bed, and, with this big smile on his face, just starts typing. Before he does anything, before he has breakfast, before he goes to the bathroom. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who appears to develop fully formed, groundbreaking theories while asleep.”
What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That one’s tastes can change a lot, and that you often like some things more, or dislike them less, when you keep doing them. When I was 18 years old, I didn’t appreciate the extent to which new habits and new tastes can develop over time — and how much control people ultimately have over their own habits.
Here’s something that I also didn’t know: In thinking about habits, it’s useful to focus on two things: the costs of decisions and the costs of errors. That sounds like econo-speak, and it is, but when we have a good habit, the decision costs are low (because it’s a habit!) and the error costs are also low (because it’s a good habit, e.g., a healthy one). Bad habits tend to have low decision costs (because the relevant behavior is habitual) but high error costs (because they make your life worse). When we lack a habit, the decision costs are often pretty high, because we have to keep thinking about what to do. That can be a strong argument in favor of developing a habit; it simplifies life. True, the decision cost-error cost framework will hardly appeal to everyone, but I think it’s useful.
Mr. Sunstein, 63, who served in the Obama administration as the head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, has had direct influence in the world of politics and policy. He scored a best-seller in 2009 with “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness,” written with Richard H. Thaler, which has been consulted by policymakers around the world. In “Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide,” released in October, Mr. Sunstein examined the history and legal issues surrounding what he calls “the ultimate civic authority.”
As for intergalactic concerns, he covered that topic in “The World According to Star Wars” (2016), which used the film franchise as a lens onto questions of religion, politics, family, morality and more (while also, some critics complained, making a foolish effort to rank the various installments).
In a statement, Mr. Sunstein summed up his work as addressing “how to promote enduring constitutional ideals — freedom, dignity, equality, self-government, the rule of law — under contemporary circumstances, which include large bureaucracies that sometimes promote, and sometimes threaten, those ideals.”
Sunstein’s work is animated by a profound sense of the ways in which human behaviour poses a challenge for regulation. He deepens our understanding of these challenges by incorporating insights from the behavioural revolution and re-energising the field of behavioural economics and law. While there have been many other contributors to this field (including Richard Thaler, his co- author on Nudge), Sunstein’s ability to bring together behavioural economics with a deep understanding of democracy, law and the functioning of institutions has a far reaching impact. From 2009 to 2012, he served as Head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the United States Government.
Through forty-eight books and hundreds of scholarly articles, Sunstein has transformed our understanding of so many important topics. In addition to his contribution to the academic field, Sunstein has also mastered the art of communicating difficult and important ideas to the public. Through his many articles of opinion and commentary in the press, media interviews and public presentations, he has been a most influential, eloquent, and productive participant in public debate.
Sunstein is one of those rare scholars who anticipate challenges of the future at every turn. He was one of the first scholars to think about the ways in which communities of discourse in a digital age might impact democracy. In so doing he redefines our ideas of how the public sphere operates. In addition, he has made brilliant and decisive contributions to a number of questions: the ways in which biases might affect judges, same sex marriage, affirmative action, the future of animal rights, and the new challenges of speech regulation