cover image Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas

Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas

Cass R. Sunstein. Simon & Schuster, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4767-2662-5

Innovative, offbeat policy proposals come wrapped in placid prose in these provocative essays. Harvard law professor and former White House regulatory czar Sunstein (Simpler) deploys the searching logic and lucid, down-to-earth style that make him one of America’s most quoted and controversial liberal commentators—Glenn Beck dubbed him “the most dangerous man in America”—on an eclectic set of political, social, and judicial problems: why sane people believe nutty conspiracy theories (Santa Claus, he points out, is “the product of a wide-spread conspiracy among parents”) and how governments could covertly defang them; why cost-benefit analysis promotes effective and humane regulation; why juries should award more compensation for lower back pain than for lost limbs; why animals should get their day in court; why gay marriage is right; and why spending to abate greenhouse emissions may be wrong. Several essays flesh out a “New Progressivism” that steers between free markets and big government, favoring nudges and incentives over regulatory mandates, and income supplements and housing subsidies over minimum wages and rent control. Sunstein will infuriate partisans on both sides with his even-handedness and his simultaneous embrace of active government and criticism of its excesses. The result is a stimulating exposition of the virtues—and dynamism—of moderation. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, the Wylie Agency. (Mar.)