October 1, 2021

Cass Sunstein

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes renowned legal scholar CASS SUNSTEIN—the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School and author of Too Much Information—for a discussion of his latest book, Sludge: What Stops Us from Getting Things Done and What to Do about It. He will be joined in conversation by Dr. CAIT LAMBERTON, Alberto I. Duran Presidential Distinguished Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.


We've all had to fight our way through administrative sludge—filling out complicated online forms, mailing in paperwork, standing in line at the motor vehicle registry. This kind of red tape is a nuisance, but, as Cass Sunstein shows in Sludge, it can also impair health, reduce growth, entrench poverty, and exacerbate inequality. Confronted by sludge, people just give up—and lose a promised outcome: a visa, a job, a permit, an educational opportunity, necessary medical help. In this lively and entertaining look at the terribleness of sludge, Sunstein explains what we can do to reduce it.

Because of sludge, Sunstein explains, too many people don't receive benefits to which they are entitled. Sludge even prevents many people from exercising their constitutional rights—when, for example, barriers to voting in an election are too high. (A Sludge Reduction Act would be a Voting Rights Act.) Sunstein takes readers on a tour of the not-so-wonderful world of sludge, describes justifications for certain kinds of sludge, and proposes “Sludge Audits” as a way to measure the effects of sludge. On balance, Sunstein argues, sludge infringes on human dignity, making people feel that their time and even their lives don't matter. We must do better.

About Author(s)

Cass R. Sunstein is Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School and Chair of the Technical Advisory Group on Behavioral Insights and Sciences at the World Health Organization. He was Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration. He is the author of The Cost-Benefit RevolutionHow Change HappensToo Much Information (all three published by the MIT Press), Nudge (with Richard H. Thaler), and other books.

Dr. Cait Lamberton teaches at the Wharton School and conducts research in consumer behavior, with a particular focus on the way that firms can design for both optimal consumer experience and best-in-class ROI. Author of over 40 published papers, her work covers a wide range, from our evolving understanding of digital and social media marketing (AMA Hunt/Maynard Award and the Lazaridis Prize), food waste (Journal of Public Policy’s Kinnear Award), to tax satisfaction and compliance (EBSCO Responsible Research in Marketing Award). In recognition of her contributions, Cait was named a Marketing Science Institute Scholar, received the Association for Consumer Research’s Early Career Award, and was awarded the American Marketing Association’s Erin Anderson Award, given annually to the field’s top female scholar and mentor. She is the co-editor of the Cambridge Handbook of Consumer Psychology, serves as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Consumer Psychology and the Journal of Marketing, and is currently co-authoring a book focused on designing experiences that affirm dignity in the marketplace.