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Interview with Cass Sunstein

Behavioural Economics is a rapidly expanding field and everyday new research is being developed in academia, tested and implemented by practitioners in financial organisation, development agencies, government ‘nudge’ units and more. This interview is part of a series interviewing prominent academics in the field. And in today's interview the answers are provided by Cass Sunstein.

Cass is not your typical behavioural scientist, as he is an American legal scholar, particularly in the fields of constitutional law, administrative law, environmental law, and law and behavioral economics. The latter what made him famous in this field. Cass was a professor at the University of Chicago Law School for 27 years, during which he wrote influential works on regulatory and constitutional law and the now world-renowned Nudge. After Chicago, Cass was the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2012. Since leaving the White House, Cass is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School. With a resume like that, I'm more than excited about his answers:


Who or what got you into Behavioural Economics/Science?

I was motivated by dissatisfaction with the rational actor model, as used at the University of Chicago, where I started my career. I was keenly interested in a different approach, and in the early 1980s, I discovered Kahneman and Tversky, and also Thaler. That was a big revelation. 

What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural economist/scientist?

I don't feel "proud" of anything, really; instead I feel "honored." I feel most honored to have been able to work, with many others, in introducing behavioral economics to law and public policy. In that regard, my work in the White House was a blessing and a joy, and in recent years, I have been honored to work with many governments all over the world.

If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?

I am first and foremost a law professor, though I like to think that I am a behavioral scientist as well, with the help of others who have taught me so much. If I did not work in behavioral economics and behavioral science, I would be focussing more fully on strictly legal problems.

How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?

I try hard to think about statistics and probabilities, especially when I am sad or scared. (Fortunately I am not sad or scared often!)

With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural economist/scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?

Curiosity, and an eye for the really important questions, and a willingness to be foolishly confident that you can add something new or significant.

How do you think behavioural economics/science will develop (in the next 10 years)?

A lesson of behavioral economics is that predictions can be very hazardous! It's clear that we will see a lot of important work and some really big surprises.

Which other academic would you love to read an interview by?

Well, some of my favorites are Daniel Kahneman, Richard Thaler, Christine Jolls, and Sendhil Mullainathan. They're friends and coauthors as well, but they often manage to surprise me.


Thank you so much for these amazing answers Cass! As I said before, this interview is part of a larger series which can also be found here on the blog. Make sure you don't miss any of those, nor any of the upcoming interviews! Keep your eye on Money on the Mind!


Behavioural Science

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