Does the government have to be wasteful?

Not necessarily. Behavioral scientist and co-author of Nudge Cass Sunstein was the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs from 2009 – 2012, and has a new book Simpler: The Future of Government (which is at the top of my Amazon wish list). Mark from Economics and Psychology Research describes the impacts of Sunstein’s work to simplify government regulation and eliminate inefficient, unnecessarily complex policy with an example:

As an example of the need for simplification and a general organizing principle, Sunstein contrasts the USDA’s unintelligible old ‘Food Pyramid’ (take a moment to examine it and reflect on just how unbelievably uninformative it is) with the new ‘Food Plate’ (Figure 3). Along with the image, the Food Plate’s website also has clear guidelines concerning healthy eating with recommendations like “drink water instead of sugary drinks”.

This change is part of Sunstein’s broader goal of nudging people towards better choices with smart disclosure of the most relevant information in a given domain.

Straight from Nudge to the policy domain:

In a similar vein, the Obama administration has overseen the creation of  simplified fuel economy labelscollege scorecards and understandable insurance coverage forms. This principle of smart disclosure can be extended to innumerable areas; credit card companies giving customers one page statements making their APR rules salient, airplane fees including all costs up front, shops listing the price of different bags of sugar per kilo to allow easy comparisons.

I look forward to reading Sunstein’s new book. Individuals from both sides of the aisle would likely agree that government could be made more efficient (the same could be said for many of the decisions we must make when engaging with private companies as well!) – and the power of behavioral science can be utilized to increase that efficiency.

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