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by Cass Sunstein and If government did not exist, we would have to invent it. And then we have to reinvent it, because it would be lousy and everyone would hate it. Since the founders chucked the Articles of Confederation, Americans have been reinventing government, reimagining structures and rules, tinkering to make their union just a little less imperfect. These projects get caught up in the political fights of their times, of course as in the late 1940s, when President Harry Truman Hoover Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch became a But these constant reinvention attempts also reflect the intellectual and management fads of their eras. Years from now, I suspect, we look back with a sort of time-capsule nostalgia at Gavin Newsom Newsom, the lieutenant governor of California, writes with the faith of the first guy in line outside the Apple store. Americans are more disengaged than ever from their government and political leaders, yet they totally into their smartphones and Facebook friends. So if technophobe governments and politicians would just embrace these technologies and platforms, democracy would be renewed. Newsom calls this, in a burst of creativity, 2.0. with Lisa Dickey, is a collection of examples big and small, real and imagined of Government 2.0 at work. It about using your phone to find a parking spot and then pay for the meter. It about NASA offering cash prizes for citizens to design an app that can track the universe dark matter. It about CityChat, a destination for mayors to trade ideas on how to improve their cities. No challenge, it seems, is too daunting for some suitably disruptive innovation. do we make it possible through apps, Web sites, social networking, or whatever for people to take greater part in governing? Newsom asks. (Yes, he really says whatever. Increased civic participation, he affirms, is the promise of new hyperconnected world. may be a dry, boring-sounding word, but real data are fascinating and powerful, Newsom lectures, living, breathing, ever-changing picture of people and their needs. data are liberated, citizens can better track crime or accident statistics in their neighborhoods, prompting local government action; they can learn which hospitals have better safety records and thus make decisions that can save lives. Open data has led to Google Earth on our screens and GPS systems in our cars. It creates trust in government, opportunities for entrepreneurs, and new jobs and industries a Newsom raves. No one ever loses in because everyone is plugged in, logged on and hitting the button. have to meet people where they are, he writes. where they are right now is playing games and spending time on social-networking sites. Everybody? Even in California, that hard to believe. For Newsom, everything bad about government is and while everything good flows from feedback loops, crowdsourcing, the cloud, mashups, hackathons, digital natives, big data or whatever. It the reinvention of government, buzzword by buzzword. Sunstein reinvention project feels more subtle, more promising and more unnerving at the same time. During President Obama first term, Sunstein served as director of the OIRA the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs the sort of obscure but influential Washington outfit that conspiracy theorists despise. (At the time of Sunstein confirmation process, Glenn Beck warned that he was the dangerous man in America. Created in 1980, the OIRA studies and signs off on new federal rules; it is cockpit of the regulatory state, as Sunstein puts it. Some regulations take the form of commands, such as a mandate for greater energy efficiency in household appliances or a requirement (recently abandoned) that cigarette companies put graphic health warnings on their products. But Sunstein doesn like forcing us to do things he rather just us. He defines nudges as that do not force anyone to do anything and that maintain freedom of choice, but that have the potential to make people healthier, wealthier and happier. Or, a little simpler: making it more likely that you will do smart things that, on your own, you might avoid. Sunstein scours the explosion of research in behavioral economics which seeks to explain how people act in the real world, rather than in economic models of a rational, profit-maximizing public for potential nudges show real opportunities for saving money and saving lives. So when the USDA recasts dietary guidelines from a nonsensical food pyramid into an easier-to-understand food is nudging us to eat better. When we are defaulted into a retirement plan at work, rather than having to actively opt into it, we are nudged to save for our old age. When pollution disclosure requirements shame business leaders, corporations are nudged into reducing their environmental damage more effectively than if the reductions were mandated. Nudges reflect a kind of paternalism on the part of regulators, Sunstein admits. They know best, but they not going to force anything on us, just a gentle push here and there; you may not even notice. Nudging is necessary, he writes, because folks too often rely on 1 of their brains the one that makes snap judgments based on biases or habitual thinking rather than 2, which reaches deliberative, calculated decisions that reflect complexity. Sunstein is a System 2 kind of guy in a System 1 kind of world. many important contexts, especially those that are complex, new, or unfamiliar, you shouldn blink, Sunstein writes, in a little dig at Malcolm Gladwell, you really shouldn trust your gut. But should you trust Sunstein instead? Sunstein insists that there is nothing nefarious about nudges, about monkeying with the architecture that governs the daily decisions of busy, unwitting citizens. All potential rules, he says, are subjected to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis, before and after the fact. And if regulators under- or overestimate benefits or costs, it is out of genuine error rather than political opportunism. make a lot of mistakes, Sunstein says, there does not appear to be a systematic bias in one or another direction. Not entirely comforting. Yet this satisfaction in his public service belies some ambivalence about the public he served. On the one hand, Sunstein is a fan of the public-comment process that draft regulations go through. officials often learn a great deal from the concerns and objections of citizens. (I certainly did), he writes. And his epilogue concludes that who have the privilege of serving the American public should listen closely to those whom they are privileged to serve. when members of that American public take the trouble to organize themselves into groups advocating their concerns, Sunstein finds them a lot less appealing. the rare occasions when members of my staff pointed out the views of interest groups, I responded (I hope with humor, but also with a point), sewer talk. Get your mind out of the gutter. Newsom criticizes the typical city council or town hall meeting, where the debate devolves into shouting and loudest voices get the most attention. But he in love with people who research, publish, organize, even foment revolution all without getting up from their laptops or iPads or putting down their smartphones. people don shout on Twitter. And social media platforms are never hijacked for murky political purposes, only noble ones. In his conclusions, Sunstein doesn appear too worried, either, that regulations based on otherwise sound social science would become a tool of politicians and regulators with motivations, as he puts it. But why wouldn they? After all, nothing seemed to prevent staffers in the supposedly apolitical Internal Revenue Service from distorting their duties with anti-conservative, pro-government biases. And an essay this month in the American, the online magazine of the American Enterprise Institute, invoked Sunstein work to suggest that behavioral science could advance conservative principles on far-ranging policies related to marriage, education, retirement savings, and Medicare. should shock no one. For all their zeal, Newsom and Sunstein are hammering around the edges of processes and rules that implement laws and policies forged in an entirely political world.