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The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs OIRA is the United States’s 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 regulation—and 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 works—and how it can work better—from an on the ground perspective Using real world examples many of them drawn from today’s 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 uantify 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 people’s fallibility Sunstein argues we can create regulation that is simultaneously human and 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 conseuences of our choices

10 thoughts on “Valuing Life

  1. says:

    See my review at

  2. says:

    Government regulation is a widely and wildly misunderstood construct Sunstein is the world's leading expert on the matter and concisely and thought provokingly explains how regulation works and should work This book couples that expertise with important considerations of human behavior and preferences

  3. says:

    Sunstein served as head of OIRA Office of Information Regulatory Affairs under Obama therefore was in charge of the government's attempt to rationalize optimize the crafting of regulations Starts out pretty dry with detailed explanations of cost benefit break even analysis techniues Then gets interesting with methods for valuing human lives Demonstrates flaws in market based systems Argues that regulations may often be justified and desirable even when non economic or non monetizable This is a very interesting exposition of bring philosophical issues such as those of Amartya Sen to very practical applications

  4. says:

    Boring Felt like a textbook or manual than anything elseIn the world of US regulation politics and interest group pressure usually do not play a significant role in the regulatory process Good internal processes are immensely important because they increase the likelyhood that people will focus on what matters and get things right Obtaining widely dispersed information is also importantWhen rulings are delayed it is usually because significant interagency concerns have yet to be addressedthe sheer number of meetings is uite uninformative some have no effect at all because no new information is presented Sometimes presenters speak in vague and general terms and thus offer nothing new If presenters offer arguments that are significant it is overwhelmingly likely that they are already in public comments and thus already well knownPresenters offering support or scepticism do not have any impact on actual decisions unconstructive feedbackThe most useful meetings are specific They might emphasise potential unintended conseuences legal difficulties or international trade implications and suggest a concrete way of handling the relevant problemsCost benefit analysis should weigh by net benefits not cost benefit ratiosThe Value of A Statistical Life VSL ie how much a human life is valued should be risk specific it should not be the same across statistically euivalent risksIf a low willingness to pay WTP arises from a failure to give adeuate attention to the future then there is reason not to use WTP when determined whether or not to go ahead with regulationApparently people are willing to incur greater risks from the very harm they seek protection from to avoid the mere possibility of betrayal eg being killed by an airbagSome of the most important cognitive biases disappear when using a foreign language since the unfamiliarity of the language prevents the system 1 mind shortcuts and heuristics from taking over

  5. says:

    Drawing on his experience at OIRA office of information and regulatory affairs Sunstein describes benefit cost analyses for new regulation With special focus on how to value a life Value of Statistical Life VSL commonly used is 9 million Predictable deviations from rationality are also discussed like our inability to accurately judge low probabilities or betrayal aversion Interesting but not very new Book is a collectiondraws heavily on law journal articles Also executive order 13653 which also is Appendix A is just not that interesting His earlier book Nudge is a classic do read that Simpler is readable almost anything Sunstein writes which is a lot is readable but suffers the same flaw as Valuing Life a mix of memoirs regulation and behavioral economics do not necessarily merit or make a whole book

  6. says:

    Although at times repetitive this book provides a great synopsis of the behavioral psychology and microeconomic motivations behind government regulation

  7. says:

    30620973 S9588 2014