Glenn calls Cass Sunstein the most dangerous man in America. President Obama, in addition to calling him a friend, considers this regulatory czar one of his closest advisers. I know, that sounds more like the most boring job in America than the most dangerous. Yet part of Sunstein's creepiness is that he described it to his future wife Samantha Power as a job he fantasized about. "I expected him to say he dreamed of playing for the Red Sox. His eyes got real big and he said: ‘Ooh! OIRA!" To translate, that's the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
Sunstein isn't necessarily dangerous in the same way a Van Jones type character is dangerous. He's not a wild eyed ideologue in most respects. He is known as one of America's preeminent experts in the area of behavioral economics, which basically means he's obsessed with how people make decisions, and how to alter that process to obtain "better" results. If the president wants you to start eating hamsters, it's his job to remix the nuts and bolts of legislation to make it happen.
Sunstein is one of the lead advocates of something called "libertarian paternalism." For example, Sunstein along with his co-author, Richard H. Thaler, writes:
"Libertarian paternalism is a relatively weak, soft, and nonintrusive type of paternalism because choices are not blocked, fenced off, or significantly burdened."
Well, that just sounds wonderful in theory, doesn't it? But, let's look at it in practice, as they give their examples of how individual issues would be treated:
"If people want to smoke cigarettes, to eat a lot of candy, to choose an unsuitable health care plan, or to fail to save for retirement, libertarian paternalists will not force them to do otherwise — or even make things hard for them…"
You see, they won't make you do anything…of course not. Sunstein just wants to alter what he calls the "choice structure" so that you choose correctly.
But, what's happened to these ideas in practice? Smoking? Two months after taking office, President Obama raised cigarette taxes by 159 percent in the single largest tobacco tax increase in U.S. history. Does that "make things hard" for smokers? Everyone hacking up a lung right now is nodding.
Eating junk food? Michelle Obama has started out her anti-obesity program, recommending (count them) 70 different ideas to manage the food you eat. Everything from how much you breastfeed your children to which foods should be able to be advertised to what audiences. They'll also "analyze the effect of state and local sales taxes on less healthy, energy-dense foods." Hmmmm…I wonder why they would want to do that.
Also, Michelle Obama and the White House Obesity Task Force's "recommendation" about companies not advertising to children illustrates what happens to Sunstein's ideas when they collide with governmental reality. The task force claims that we should only revisit the federal laws that tell companies where they can advertise their products "if voluntary efforts to limit the marketing of less healthy foods and beverages to children do not yield substantial results."
In other words, choose correctly, or we will choose for you.
And I know I don't have to tell you about Sunstein's supposed "right to choose an unsuitable health care plan." The right to choose that has already been revoked by this government, despite the fact that Obama ran his campaign promising the opposite. Remember this classic Obama ad:
"Hillary Clinton's attacking, but what's she not telling you about her health care plan? It forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can't afford it, and you pay a penalty if you don't…" Is that Barack Obama or Jim Demint? That might have sounded good at the time to win votes, but what he really was saying was "we won't mandate that you buy health insurance…until we're elected and can mandate that you buy health insurance."
Some will argue that this is just government bastardizing Sunstein's ideas. After all—he said he still wants us to have choices—right? In his mind, yes he did. But, it's important to always remember that words don't mean the same thing to Cass as they do to you.
To you, a choice is a choice. You either choose to smoke, or you don't. But to Cass Sunstein, if you are choosing to smoke, it's not a pure choice. Because smoking is unhealthy, those who choose to smoke aren't making the decision properly. They must not be focusing on the right information. Therefore, it's not really a pure choice at all.
Who determines what the pure choice is? Well, people like Cass Sunstein of course!
Sunstein's idea of libertarian paternalism might seem wonderful because of the friendly sounding use of the word "libertarian." But, whether he's nudging you or pushing you through a plate glass window, he's still advocating a way for the government to be your parent—an idea about as libertarian as Kim Jong Il.
<< Return to the November 2010 Index