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Simpler: The Future of Government Kindle Edition

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Length: 272 pages Word Wise: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"This inspiring book has a tale and a lesson. In the tale, a thinker with a passion for reason moves from the ivory tower to the White House and becomes a doer. The lesson is that regulation is not a dirty word and that thoughtful government works." (Daniel Kahneman, bestselling author of Thinking, Fast and Slow)

"This may be the most important book to come out of President Obama's first term. Contrary to conservative perception, the administration, guided by Cass Sunstein, launched a brilliant effort to simplify and reduce regulations. Sunstein found ingenious ways to protect citizens and nudge corporate behavior while maximizing freedom and business opportunity. Simpler is a fascinating guide to how behavioral economics is improving government, and none too soon." (Walter Isaacson, bestselling author of Steve Jobs)

"Everyone complains that government regulations are often dumb, but how could you make them smarter? Here's a guidebook by someone who did it. It should be read by everyone who sets policies for government, nonprofits, education, or business." (Chip Heath, co-author of Decisive: How to Make Better Decisions in Life and Work)

"Tucked away from the sound and fury of politics, there is the quiet world of policy making. This fantastic book, from a magnificent scholar turned a master of this world, restored my faith in what governments really do, and more importantly in what a smart government could do to help citizens live better, more fulfilled lives." (Dr. Esther Duflo, Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Analysis at Massachusetts Institute of Economics and Co-Founder and Director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab)

"Cass Sunstein: scholar, public servant, choice architect. This lays out a new vision for how research from academics and attention from the public can be used to make regulations and government work better and simpler—to protect the public at the lowest possible cost and hassle. No wonder Glenn Beck said Sunstein was the most dangerous man in America." (Dr. Austan Goolsbee, University of Chicago Booth School of Business and former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers)

"We typically don't associate the idea of simple systems with government and large corporations. But in this fine book, Sunstein provides a glimpse into how we can tame the complexity beast and why it is important, even necessary if we want to improve our collective welfare." (Dan Ariely, bestselling author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions)

"Federal regulations determine the quality of the air we breathe and water we drink, the safety of our workplaces, the kinds of cars we can buy, and much more. In this book, Cass Sunstein shows how he helped President Obama use the smartest academic ideas to undertake the most important reform of our regulatory system in more than three decades. This revolution in regulation relies on using evidence, rather than ideology, to guide regulatory decisions and by making regulations simpler and easier to understand. Simple is a must (and fun) read for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of how government—and the people in it—are using the insights from the seminal research by Sunstein and others to make our lives healthier, safer, and more prosperous." (Michael Greenstone, 3M Professor of Environmental Economics at MIT, Department of Economics)

"Sunstein’s firsthand knowledge and distinct humor give his account a real dynamism." (Kirkus Reviews)

"[Simpler is] ...a lucid, engaging treatment of behavioral economics that sees a role for the state in nudging humans towards rationality and responsibility. The result is a forthright, compelling vision of technocratic government that's both efficient and humane." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

“A remarkably fun, engaging read.” (Fortune.com)

“This book should be on every federal leader’s reading list…common-sense tips leaders at any level can use to be more effective.” (WashingtonPost.com)

“Optimistic in its vision of a government that can do good, a positive message in a year that seems to be filled with signs pointing to the opposite…a great read for any aspiring economist or individual on the fence on what to think about the state of regulatory affairs in America today.” (InTheCapital.Streetwise.com)

"Mr. Sunstein is a long-standing champion of the cost-benefit analysis of regulation, and his criticisms are often spot-on. The idea is simple and sensible. . . . deeply informed by the insights of behavioral economics—a field of research that reveals several psychological quirks that affect human decision-making." (Wall Street Journal)

A more detailed, more nuanced look at how rules and regulations can be made simpler, and how the social environment in which we make decisions can be "nudged" in ways that help us to make more rational, sensible choices. (Michiko Kakutani The New York Times)

About the Author

Cass R. Sunstein is the nation’s most-cited legal scholar who, for the past fifteen years, also has been at the forefront of behavioral economics. From 2009 to 2012, he served as the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School. His book, Nudge, coauthored with Richard Thaler, was a national bestseller.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J. Edgar Mihelic on November 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I don’t know what I really expected when I picked this book up. I liked “Nudge” and I am a fan of most of the Behavioral Economics books that have been put out to popularize the subject in the recent past. Since Sunstein recently served a time in the Obama administration, I was hoping for something like “Nudge: Practical Applications”.

That’s not exactly what it is, but it starts striving towards that near the end. The problem is that the book feels like it lacks focus. The first part is more like a memoir of the time Sunstein was moving into the position and the difficulties with the office in particular and with the current congress in particular. Once he starts to describe the inner workings, it gets more interesting, but it ends too soon. What I really learned is that it must have been Thaler who gave “Nudge” its zing. Simplier isn’t really a bad book, but it will soon be forgotten.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on June 3, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Author Sunstein's stated objective is to suggest that without a massive reduction in its current functions, government can be far more effective, less confusing, and more helpful if it opts for greater simplicity whenever possible. Sunstein also believes we need to go beyond sterile, tired debates about 'more' or 'less' government and instead focus on empirical evidence as to what really works, while paying attention to costs and benefits.

Fewer rules and common sense are often better. However, companies often don't want ambiguity, even if it invited the use of common sense. One reason - to avoid legal risks; another - sometimes they want clarity as to what to do. The author's favorite tool is 'nudges.' Examples include providing clear information on healthy diets, a disclosure requirement that retirement plans must provide clear data on projected monthly retirement income for various options, a default rule that automatically enrolls people in a health care plan, graphic warnings on cigarette packs, reminders to a consumer that he/she is about to exceed their allotment of monthly minutes, an effort to inform consumers as to how their energy use compares to neighbors. Threats of punishment for those not using seat belts, increased cigarette taxes, cap and trade systems, taxes imposed for failing to purchase health insurance - these are examples of regulations, not nudges. Sunstein believes government needs to use both nudges and regulations.

A considerable amount of the book deals with psychological reactions to information - a topic better addressed by experts in the field, not Sunstein - an attorney.

Another topic covered by 'Simpler' - that of using data to help form regulations and guide enforcement.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Alejandro Pareja on August 30, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This is not a bad book. The reading is easy, simple, aiming at somewhere in between the man in the street and the modernization of government specialist. I certainly took many interesting views and data from it. Its value as a promoter of simplicity by the government is very important. But the book is not a great book either. I believe the word "future" in the subtitle is somewhat misleading. In my opinion the book is more about the present or even the recent past of government than about the future. Obviously, the word "future" must have added more buyers to the book than it would have the word "past" (a way of experiencing choice architecture), giving it a foundational taste on regulatory matters.
It is about present and past because it focuses on what happened while the author was OIRA's administrator and because many of the most important issues he raises have been in the government literature for a long time. For an example, you can check the THE OECD REFERENCE CHECKLIST FOR REGULATORY DECISION-MAKING, from... 1995.
Be it past or be it future, the book is not about the government as a whole either. It is only about a tiny portion of its effectiveness. It is neither about its efficiency nor about its role regarding social justice.
Another trait to mention is that although it is a reasonably short book, 219 pages, it repeats some concepts along the book too much for my taste.
And finally a collateral matter that is fateful enough to deserve mention. On page 162 the author states that the USA went to the Irak war "on the chance that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction." I believe this is a false assertion. USA went to that war based on sheer lies for reasons that had nothing to do with WMD.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By bronx book nerd VINE VOICE on June 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is a great book to read and get examples of nudges, choice architecture and behavioral economics. It used to be that economists saw people as homo economicus or rational beings that always made the best choices in their own self-interest. Now we know, because of behavioral economics, that this is not true. We have a greater aversion to loss than a desire for gain; we act based on memorable events rather than actual probabilities; etc, etc. And this book does a good job of highlighting and defining all the etceteras, so if you want to use nudges to get people to do the right thing, you will have a good menu of options here (ironically perhaps too many options and you may not then act). The problem that I have with this book is that the author confuses nudging (or using choice architecture, which is based on a sort of hidden psychology) with standard influence. The most glaring misuse of this is with calling cost-benefit analysis a nudge, which it is not. Cost-benefit is a way of providing more and better information to make a policy decision. In this vein it is actually more of a homo economicus tool, as that actor would in theory make better rational decisions the more information he or she has. Sunstein spends a good deal of text describing cost-benefit analysis, touting it almost as if it were a new discovery, although it has been taught in graduate schools as far back as the 1980's (when I received my public administration degree). Sunstein also characterized plain language as a nudge, which I am not sure is right either. Certainly plain language can help people understand what they are reading, but does it really address some psychological heuristic that we use when making decisions? As a whole the book is definitely a worthwhile read as it does provide a good list of possible nudges for practitioners, as well as a very comprehensive (though perhaps awkwardly placed in this book)exposition on cost-benefit analysis.
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