Synopses & Reviews
and#8220;Keep your government hands off my Medicare!and#8221; Such comments spotlight a central question animating Suzanne Mettlerand#8217;s provocative and timely book: why are many Americans unaware of government social benefits and so hostile to them in principle, even though they receive them? The Obama administration has been roundly criticized for its inability to convey how much it has accomplished for ordinary citizens. Mettler argues that this difficulty is not merely a failure of communication; rather it is endemic to the formidable presence of the and#8220;submerged state.and#8221;
In recent decades, federal policymakers have increasingly shunned the outright disbursing of benefits to individuals and families and favored instead less visible and more indirect incentives and subsidies, from tax breaks to payments for services to private companies. These submerged policies, Mettler shows, obscure the role of government and exaggerate that of the market. As a result, citizens are unaware not only of the benefits they receive, but of the massive advantages given to powerful interests, such as insurance companies and the financial industry. Neither do they realize that the policies of the submerged state shower their largest benefits on the most affluent Americans, exacerbating inequality. Mettler analyzes three Obama reformsand#8212;student aid, tax relief, and health careand#8212;to reveal the submerged state and its consequences, demonstrating how structurally difficult it is to enact policy reforms and even to obtain public recognition for achieving them. She concludes with recommendations for reform to help make hidden policies more visible and governance more comprehensible to all Americans.
The sad truth is that many American citizens do not know how major social programs workand#8212;or even whether they benefit from them. Suzanne Mettlerand#8217;s important new book will bring government policies back to the surface and encourage citizens to reclaim their voice in the political process.
and#8220;Why do Americans find government so baffling and irritatingand#8212;even though many of us depend on public programs for a secure retirement, an affordable mortgage, or a college loan? In this timely and important book, political scientist Suzanne Mettler explains how the United States has come to rely on hidden, indirect policies that privilege special interests but puzzle regular citizens. American democracy can do better, and she shows how. Politicians and the public alike have much to learn from her brilliant and engaging analysis.and#8221;
and#8220;Americans want government policies to be transparent, straightforward, and fair, but many social programs are confusing and opaque and shower benefits disproportionately on the well-to-do. In this timely, penetrating, and highly readable book, Suzanne Mettler illuminates the hidden government benefits and subsidies that comprise our and#8216;submerged stateand#8217; and demonstrates how its murky operation impairs democratic practice and weakens civic engagement.and#8221;
andldquo;Mettler demonstrates convincingly that the submerged state perpetuates economic inequality as well as confusion, ignorance, and apathy. The average citizen would benefit greatly if, as far as possible, Mettlerandrsquo;s prescriptions for the reduction of the submerged state were to be effected.andrdquo;
andldquo;The Submerged State is a vitally important analysis for anyone who has bemoaned the inertia and inequities of modern US politics.andrdquo;
andldquo;[I]nformative [and] engaging. . . . This is an important, well-reasoned, welcome volume. Highly recommended.andrdquo;
“What happens when the worlds leading academic expert on regulation is plunked into the real world of government? Sunstein is that expert, and he was the regulatory boss of the US government from 2009 to 2012. Valuing Life describes both how Sunsteins ideas about regulation influenced his tenure in government, and how his experiences in government have influenced his ideas about regulation. This immensely rewarding book, written in the humane, beautiful style that Sunstein is known for, should be read by everyone who cares about how our government works.”
“Written with clarity and elegance, this book explains how White House oversight of the federal regulatory state is conducted—both the procedures and the analytics. It is a must read for academics and practitioners interested in improving the quality of federal regulation.”
“An immensely insightful look at one of the least understood and most influential agencies in the government and the complex factors that it considers in helping to determine what is and isn't subject to government regulation. “
“Sunstein, who served as Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) from 2009 to 2012, argues that government must always consider the impact of proposed regulation on human life. Sunstein describes how the OIRA actually works, explains the role of break-even analyses in government regulation, and explores how the government might account for risk to nonquantifiable goods, such as privacy. . . . overall this is a lucid book that sheds light on how the government reasons, and how it ought to reason, about the regulations that shape our everyday lives.”
and#8220;Important and provocative.and#8221;
“As an accessible introduction to regulation, the book benefits from Sunsteins recent and significant experience, and his vision for new directions in public policy.”
“There are many economists, philosophers, and legal scholars who write about the value of human life and how to incorporate it into policy, but few of them have actually put this into practice in a government position. The most prominent scholar to do so is Cass Sunstein, whose latest book, Valuing Life: Humanizing the Regulatory State, provides an invaluable perspective from someone who has experience in both the academic and policy realms. . . . In Valuing Life, Sunstein surveys a wide range of practical research and real-life policymaking in his characteristically lucid style, offering a candid and humble account of his administrative tenure in Washington. He performs an invaluable service in revealing how government regulators balance pragmatic concerns of resource scarcity with principled ideals of respect and dignity.”
“Sunstein draws on his experience as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to analyze the standards used for government regulations. . . . He provides both clear explanations and concrete examples of how the behavioral orientation in economics can contribute to the world of cost/benefit policy formulation. Recommended.”
In Valuing Life,
Cass R. Sunstein uses his considerable personal experience and knowledge of law, policy, and behavioral studies to show how we can humanize regulation, and why we ought to do so. All governments regulate: they limit private conduct in order to promote important social goals, such as worker safety, clean air, racial and sexual equality, safe food, or greater financial security. As the U.S. regulatory czar,” the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Sunstein oversaw regulation in a dazzling variety of areas, and this experience informs his book. Valuing Life
reveals how OIRA actually worksand how it can work betterfrom an on-the-ground perspective. With engaging examples drawn from his own experience, he explains how OIRA and cost-benefit analysis, a cornerstone of regulatory practice in this country, can benefit from taking behavioral and psychological studies into account. The effectiveness of government is often a product of how people respond to risk or fall prey to certain biases, such as overreaction to bad events. Covering some of the most important topics of our time, the book is linked by three core ideas: we must attend to the human consequences of policies; take account of how people actually behave; and respect human dignity.
The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) is the United Statess regulatory overseer. In Valuing Life
, Cass R. Sunstein draws on his firsthand experience as the Administrator of OIRA from 2009 to 2012 to argue that we can
humanize regulationand save lives in the process.
As OIRA Administrator, Sunstein helped oversee regulation in a broad variety of areas, including highway safety, health care, homeland security, immigration, energy, environmental protection, and education. This background allows him to describe OIRA and how it worksand how it can work betterfrom an on-the-ground perspective. Using real-world examples, many of them drawn from todays headlines, Sunstein makes a compelling case for improving cost-benefit analysis, a longtime cornerstone of regulatory decision-making, and for taking account of variables that are hard to quantify, such as dignity and personal privacy. He also shows how regulatory decisions about health, safety, and life itself can benefit from taking into account behavioral and psychological research, including new findings about what scares us, and what does not. By better accounting for peoples fallibility, Sunstein argues, we can create regulation that is simultaneously more human and more likely to achieve its goals.
In this highly readable synthesis of insights from law, policy, economics, and psychology, Sunstein breaks down the intricacies of the regulatory system and offers a new way of thinking about regulation that incorporates human dignity and an insistent focus on the consequences of our choices.
About the Author
Suzanne Mettler is the Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions at Cornell University. Her most recent book is Soldiers to Citizens: The G.I. Bill and the Making of the Greatest Generation.and#160;
Table of Contents
Human Consequences, or The Real World of Cost-Benefit Analysis
Dignity, Financial Meltdown, and Other Nonquantifiable Things
Valuing Life, 1: Problems
Valuing Life, 2: Solutions
The Morality of Risk
What Scares Us
Four Ways to Humanize the Regulatory State
Executive Order 13563 of January 18, 2011
The Social Cost of Carbon
Estimated Benefi ts and Costs of Selected Federal Regulations
Selected Examples of Breakeven Analysis
Values for Mortality and Morbidity