Annals of Self-Binding


Sam Power’s husband Cass Sunstein has been offered a job as head of the Obama regime’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. This should be interesting. A few years ago, Joe Heath said to me something like “hyperbolic discounting will be to the next decade what the collective action problem was for the nineties.” 

Joe was right, as he is in most things. Hyperbolic discounting (basically the tendency to value immediate gains and costs more highly than those in the future) has become wrapped up in the exploding literature on behavioural economics. The policy arm of behavioural economics has become known as libertarian paternalism (or “soft paternalism”) because the regulations it endorses are the sorts of things that we *would* choose if we were more perfectly rational, that is, if our brains weren’t still gummed up with savannah-era biases. 

The most accessible recent book on this is probably Nudge, written by Sunstein and Richard Thaler. Here’s a review. The Economist had a cover story a few years ago called “The rise of soft paternalism” — here’s the gated link.

Sunstein is a major legal scholar, but I’m not familiar with much of his work in the field. I learned a lot from his book Designing Democracy, which I taught one semester. I am less impressed by his work on digital culture and its negative effect on democracy — I offered some rather  programmatic and under-developed replied to his concerns in a column for the magazine here.

Very much related: President-elect Obama  wants to keep his blackberry.


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