“Smart” Government Discourse through a Behavioral Economics Lens

Date01 September 2014
Published date01 September 2014
676 Public Administration Review • September | October 2014
with what policy results (chapter 1). In chapter 2,
Sunstein introduces some key terms underlying behav-
ioral economics–based individual decision making,
such as “choice architecture,” def‌i ned as “the design
of the social environment in a way that inf‌l uences
people’s choices” (37), and “nudges,” or “approaches
that inf‌l uence decisions while preserving freedom of
choice” (38). Based on these terms, the author argues
that choice architects “nudge people” (37), thereby
bringing about policy changes “without forcing anyone
to do anything” (41).  ese concepts will be famil-
iar to many policy scholars and practitioners, given
Sunstein’s and sometime coauthor Richard  aler’s
previous works, but they are situated in useful
context here.
Focusing on inherent human irrationality in deci-
sion making—the failure of good decision making
because of “hyperbole discounting” of the (long-term)
future (56–57)—in chapter 3, Sunstein argues for
“simple and clear approaches” (57) to achieving policy
aims through behavioral change. Examples include
automatic enrollment and otherwise defaulting into
desirable programs rather than often laborious “opt-in
requirements. Understanding basic behaviors that
af‌f ect judgment and decision making, including loss
aversion, availability bias, and framing ef‌f ects, can be
helpful in reducing the “behavioral market failures”
(72) that bring about bad policy outcomes. With
similar nuanced attention to human irrationality when
making choices, in chapter 6, Sunstein calls atten-
tion to how people commonly fail to recognize many
important events in their everyday lives because of lack
of salience (which Sunstein terms the “invisible gorilla”
ef‌f ect).  e path to better policy outcomes, as outlined
here: “behaviorally informed” policy interventions into
daily life, reliant on understanding social inf‌l uence and
related dynamics in social relationships (136–42).
Across chapters 2, 3, and 6, Sunstein persuasively
argues that the choices people make in their everyday
lives are inherently limited and irrational because of
cognitive biases. Relevant and timely policy tools,
Cass R. Sunstein, Simpler:  e Future of Govern-
ment (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013). 272 pp.
$26.00 (cloth), ISBN: 9781476726595; $16.00
(paper), ISBN: 9781476726601.
Many are the scholarly debates about the
future of public administration and policy
making—and, specif‌i cally, what role(s)
government should play in the ef‌f ort to enhance public
governance. Fast-changing socioeconomic contexts
and expanding global interactions, shifting institutions
(e.g., social rules and norms), and clashing cultures
require governments to take on more multidimen-
sional roles and actions for dealing with complex pol-
icy problems.  is changing environment inside and
outside government is logically and contextually con-
nected with how policy makers make policy choices
and devise prescriptions to address policy problems.
With this dynamically changing policy environment
and shifting government roles, attention to behavioral
economics as an alternative paradigm for understand-
ing (and inf‌l uencing) policy making and governance
has continuously increased since the 1990s.
Simpler:  e Future of Government, an important new
book from Cass R. Sunstein, a key f‌i gure in advanc-
ing the behavioral economics perspective both in
policy scholarship and in government practice, focuses
on understanding policy decisions. Among other
contributions, the book suggests how a more desirable
future of government might prof‌i tably be understood
and discussed (54).
Sunstein’s book consists of two parts: inherent human
characteristics and irrationality in making choices
(chapters 2, 3, and 6) and policy approaches and
perspectives for better policy making and changes
using the behavioral economics framework (chapters 4,
5, 7, 8, 9, and 10). As the administrator of the Of‌f‌i ce
of Information and Regulatory Af‌f airs during the
f‌i rst Obama administration (2009–2012), the author
directly inf‌l uenced how government policy, especially
regulatory policy, was conceived and implemented,
“Smart” Government Discourse through a Behavioral
Economics Lens
Sonia M. Ospina and Rogan Kersh, Editors
Dongjae Jung
Arizona State University
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 74, Iss. 5, pp. 676–678. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12275.
Dongjae Jung is a doctoral candidate
in the School of Public Affairs at Arizona
State University and a Transactional
Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC)
fellow at Syracuse University. His research
broadly touches on public policy analysis
and policy change, stability, success, and
failure dynamics in the policy process.
His substantive research focuses on U.S.
immigration politics and policy making in
terms of intergovernmental relations and
the evaluation of internal immigration
enforcement policy and related immigration
administrative programs.
E-mail: djung2@asu.edu

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