cover image Too Much Information: Understanding What You Don’t Want to Know

Too Much Information: Understanding What You Don’t Want to Know

Cass R. Sunstein. MIT, $27.95 (248p) ISBN 978-0-262-04416-5

Harvard Law School professor Sunstein (Conformity) considers the legal, social, and psychological implications of government-mandated information disclosures in this nuanced account. Contending that nutrition labels, restaurant menu calorie counts, credit card bill late fees, and other mandated disclosures should be evaluated on whether they “increase human well-being,” rather than simply provided as part of the public’s “right to know,” Sunstein parses the “hedonic value,” or pleasure, people take in knowing—or not knowing—something, and the “instrumental value” people assign to information based on how they can use it. He compiles data on consumers’ “willingness to pay” for tire safety rankings and the potential side effects of pain medication; contends that the positive and negative feelings associated with such disclosures should be given more weight than they currently are; and outlines potential benefits and limitations to a system of “personalized disclosure,”in which the government mandates certain basic information, but makes further details available to those who want it through apps and other technologies. Readers with a background in the social sciences and moral philosophy will have an easier time engaging than generalists, though Sunstein writes in clear, accessible language throughout. This balanced and well-informed take illuminates an obscure but significant corner of government policy making. (Sept.)