I’m Now in Cass Sunstein’s Corner

He writes,

If you think that Barack Obama has been a terrific president (as I do) and that Hillary Clinton would be an excellent successor (as I also do), then you might want to consider the following books, to help you to understand why so many of your fellow citizens disagree with you

I could pick a nit and say that these books only explain why a few fellow citizens disagree with the left. But they are a good selection of conservative intellectual thought. I give Sunstein a lot of credit for reading them and recommending them.

One of my biggest worries is intellectual and moral arrogance among policy makers. I think that this contributed to such disasters as Vietnam, Syria, and the housing and regulatory policies that contributed to the financial crisis.

I think that left-leaning lawyers can be particularly arrogant, and I worry about who Mrs. Clinton will appoint to the Supreme Court. If she were to appoint Sunstein, I would now be less worried. I was not such a big fan of Sunstein’s before, but the linked essay fulfills the motto of this blog.

So, let me attempt a similar exercise. What are some books that I would recommend to people who tend to agree with me about things in order to open your minds to other reasonable points of view?

1. In the area of education, I am a proponent of the Null Hypothesis (interventions do not make reliable, replicable, long-term differences). Two books that make a good case otherwise are Goldin and Katz, The Race Between Education and Technology and Elizabeth Green, Building a Better Teacher.

2. People who tend to agree with me on things often like the model of humans as rationally pursuing their interests. Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow is a must-read for understanding the contrary point of view. You are bound to object to parts of it, but there is much valuable insight in this book.

3. People who tend to agree with me on things often like to emphasize what incentives can explain. However, Joseph Henrich’s The Secret of Our Success is a good reminder that there are other social norms in the background that are important. Another book on the importance of culture is Peter Turchin’s War, Peace, and War.

4. As you know, I am no fan of Keynesian economics or of macroeconomics in general. But I can recommend L. Randall Wray’s Why Minsky Matters and George Akerlof and Robert Shiller, Animal Spirits (although I detested their subsequent book). Scott Sumner’s history of the Great Depression, The Midas Paradox [link fixed], is a tour de force.

5. In Our Kids, Robert Putnam coined the phrase “bifurcated family patterns.” Isabel Sawhill’s Generation Unbound looks at the same phenomenon. Both authors are left of center, so many of you will not find their books congenial, but you can still appreciate the data and the observations.

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18 Responses to I’m Now in Cass Sunstein’s Corner

  1. cfh says:

    Sunstein went up in my estimation after this, though I still think he should have his nudger cut off.

  2. Dan W. says:

    Mr Kling you are a much better man than me in being charitable to members of the political Left. My question to Cass Sustein, and those like him who believe Obama is a terrific, or even above average President is this: What evidence and outcomes would cause you to judge President Obama with less praise?

    Would it be ever escalating health care prices and diminishing health insurance options? Oh, we have that. Would it be a feckless foreign policy that engendered the “Arab Spring” that has resulted in millions of refugees? Oh, we have that. Would it be an ever declining labor force participation rate? Oh, we have that. Would it be great unrest and racial discord in certain urban cities? Oh, we have that. Would it be the acceleration of corporate consolidation and declining rates of business formation? Oh, we have that.

    So Mr. Sustein, what evidence or outcomes would disqualify President Obama from being “Terrific” given that evidence and outcomes we do have?

    • TR5749 says:

      I think you can make an honest case that Obama has been a good president. I would disagree with that conclusion, but there is certainly an argument to be made. I do not, however, see how you can make a case that it has been a “terrific” presidency. His successes on the domestic front have been real but smal. His foreign policy has mostly failed on the terms he himself set 8 years ago, and seems at the moment to be teetering on the brink of disaster.

    • Lord says:

      Per capita healthcare spending increases as low as they have ever been? Check, but also more of the cost being borne by individuals and workers. Really doing anything in healthcare is a win. Not getting us into another war? Check, but also leaving us bogged down in Afghanistan. Labor participation rates now rising? Check, but it has been interminably long. Near the lowest crime rates in 40 years? Check, not that some areas still need work. Continuation of business conglomeration and low business formation since 2000? Check, not much change there. Mixed, like most, but hardly the disaster Bush was.

    • collin says:

      In terms of Feckless reaction to Arab Spring, what should have we done? I have the opposite belief that Obama has done too much and these are problems for Egypt, Libya and Syria to solve. In the case of Syria, my guess is there was not a good solution for Syria and any more military options would have failed miserably. And Obama’s willingness to indulge the rebels with money and weapons only lengths the Civil War instead of getting to the negotiation table. (Although the Civil War was likely to last this long.)

      Again, why is the US President’s job to solve this Civil War?

    • Thomas Taylor says:

      “Would it be ever escalating health care prices”
      Oh, God. Is it serious? It is funny how people who think it is a wonderful evidence of America’s economic dynamism to bankrupt sick people (lest America become a Third World hell like the United Kingdom or Sweden) now pretend they care about health care prices and even base their judgment of a president on them.

  3. TR5749 says:

    after she wins in November, the lame duck GOP should come to HRC with a deal: We are going to fast track Merrick Garland’s approval for the open SCOTUS seat unless you promise to nominate Sunstein. Her term looks to be exceptionally fractious, and making and sticking to such a deal would smooth at least the early months. Sure, she could go back on that promise, but that would be a huge political blunder.

  4. Ross says:

    The link to “The Midas Paradox” in bullet 4 goes to the wrong book, BTW.

  5. That is just peachy. The author of “Nudge” recommends not to demonize the opposition. Conservatives have valid concerns arising from observation and history. But, this won’t stop Sunstein and his friends from doing what they want. They still know best, and historical arrangements such as the Constitution are not going to stop them.

    Sunstein will use state power to nudge people into a better life. Don’t worry, he knows your concerns and will accomodate them to the extent possible, without altering the grand plan too much. The nudges will become stronger in a reasonable and gentle way until no one can resist. Happiness and prosperity will follow.

    Is disarming the population one of his goals? He understands our concerns, that other unenlightened states did some questionable things when they had complete power. Don’t worry, Sunstein understands these concerns and will accomodate them in some way, without allowing the citizenry to be armed.

    Of all the tyrants, the smart and smiling ones are the worst. My opinion of Sunstein has not changed. He loves the lawless Obama, who is bringing the glorious future to us much faster than if Obama had to respect the rules. Rules previously adopted by the people through their cumbersome mechanisms of representative government under a limiting Constitution. Instead of a Constitution, we could have Sunstein’s Little Blue Book of Nudges.

    • asdf says:

      Indeed. Nicely thinking your opponents are evil morons who need to have their lives re-arranged isn’t all that different from rabid SJWs that believe and want to do the same things but aren’t polite about it.

      There is an entire class of people for whom “correct tone” is the only marker that matters.

  6. Sam says:

    I know modesty prevented him from recommending it, but I’d say Kling’s own macro memoir is worthy of mention under point #4.

    Under point #3 I would add Andrew Bacevich’s book “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History”.

  7. collin says:

    In terms of history treatment of Presidents, there are a lot accidents that change perceptions of terms. Look at the case of Bush Sr. and Reagan in which we hear Reagan! versus a lot of Bush Sr. was fine. Just think how many young people would guess the Berlin Wall came down during Reagan versus Bush. (And Bush had to deal with the S&L crisis which happened under Reagan in the 1990 recession.)

    1) There was a luck for Obama compared Carter in which the difference was Obama sent two helicopters for the Bin Laden killing versus Carter sending one with Iran. For history, the Lehman/Financial collapse happened two months before the election.

    2) One of the problem with US Presidents is the need to something. Say in 2012 was there any good solution to Syria? My guess all solutions would have failed and I believe Obama was smart to keep away but it created other issues.

    3) I do believe Obama was effective although I tend to think HRC should be one term and Republicans should hold the House. (Rs are guaranteed to take Senate in 2018.)

    4) What do conservatives recommend for social issues? I hear a bunch recommendations of local control but in 2016, but it is the smaller working class white towns struggling the most. I find amazing the latest drug epidemic is center on white populations not minority communities. So conservatives recommend solutions that worked in 1960 but no longer having economic reality and the economy is divesting out of these communities.

    • collin says:

      That said a President’s perception will change on what happens the next 2 – 4 years. Here are the Obama ones:

      1) If Iran gets the nuclear bomb during the 15 years, he will lose a lot of credibility.
      2) Terrorist attacks and the impact of ISIS. In reality, ISIS is losing a lot of territory and impact in Iraq and it is likely lose Mosel the next six months. However, they are great at social media and finding supporters for attacks in other nations so terrorism continues.
      3) If the economy has a recession in the next two years, it won’t reflect well although I suspect poor economies elsewhere (Oil nations, Brexit, Brazil/Valenzuela and China’s weird over/under-valuation & property debt of the currency will worry investors more.)
      4) Whatever happens to Obamacare and healthcare.
      5) We don’t know what happens with the uptick in crime. It is not a crime wave, 11% growth in 2015 but it is something to worry about.

  8. Dennis says:

    The possibility of Sunstein on S Ct was discussed early in the Obama Administration, and 1. Sunstein turned it down 2. it was thought he’d have a hard time getting confirmed for the S Ct and would have an easier time getting through the Senate for OIRA. Source: The book “The Nine” by Jeffrey Toobin

  9. zac says:

    I think any recommendation of ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ should include a disclaimer that many of the cited studies have been caught up in the replication crisis of psychology. In particular the sections on priming should be read with an extremely skeptical eye. See https://jasoncollins.org/2016/06/29/re-reading-kahnemans-thinking-fast-and-slow/ for examples.

  10. Rich Berger says:

    “If you think that Barack Obama has been a terrific president (as I do) and that Hillary Clinton would be an excellent successor (as I also do), then you might want to consider the following books, to help you to understand why so many of your fellow citizens disagree with you.”

    Who can argue with such major league delusion? Unless you are a progressive who hails the 100 year project to overthrow the founding principles of liberty and limits on government power, how can you view Obama’s presidency, with its disdain for the rule of law and easy lies, as anything but a disaster?

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