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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

 
Nudging Enron

by digby

Remember when we were all up in arms about Dick Cheney's energy task force? Grist reports on disturbing data that shows this sort of thing became standard operating procedure in both the Bush and Obama administrations:

When former Harvard Law Professor and eclectic intellectual Cass Sunstein was named administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), conservative, industry-oriented Wall Street Journal editorial writers enthused that his appointment was a "promising sign." A slew of subsequent events has proved their optimism well placed, as we have noted repeatedly in CPRBlog.

But nothing beats hard, empirical evidence. In a report released yesterday, CPR announces the results of an exhaustive six-month analysis of the barebones information OIRA has eked onto the web regarding 1,080 meetings held over a 10-year period (October 2001-June 2011) with 5,759 outside lobbyists, 65 percent of whom represented industry and 12 percent of whom represented public interest groups. The results were shocking even to us, long-time and admittedly jaded observers of OIRA's one-way ratchet toward weakening public health and other protections.


Read on for the depressing details.

This seems to be a bureaucratic problem as much as anything, with regulatory policy being centralized in the White House instead of the agencies assigned to that task. Until now Republicans were more likely to do this but it seems to have been continued under Obama rather seamlessly.

Industry has a great deal of sway under this secretive approach, which is understandable under GOP reign since that's their stated goal. It's a little bit surprising under a Democrat, but probably shouldn't be. The naming of Sunstein to this post was the tip off. He's very popular with neo-liberals and European conservatives (basically the same thing) for his "nudge" theory, which is interesting but of doubtful utility in opposition to the profit motive. It's one thing to "nudge" consumers into making better decisions for themselves, it's quite another to "nudge" industries into foregoing growth and profit for the greater good.

This stems from he calls "libertarian paternalism" the name alone fairly describing the absurdity of the idea. Here's how Wikipedia defines it:

Soft paternalism (also referred to as asymmetrical paternalism and libertarian paternalism) is a political philosophy that believes the state can
help you make the choices you would make for yourself—if only you had the strength of will as well as the sharpness of mind. But unlike 'hard' paternalists, who ban some things and mandate others, the softer kind aims only to skew your decisions, without infringing greatly on your freedom of choice.

The term libertarian paternalism is intended to evoke the idea that soft paternalism is an approach to public policy that can be endorsed by some self-described libertarians because it does not abridge individual freedom, though other libertarians are firmly opposed to it.


This seems to me to be an idea from someone who has very little real knowledge of human nature. (Or someone who doesn't like regulation of business and seeks to give cover to neo-liberals who can't get elected if they come right out and say it.)

Sunstein is an iconoclast with a whole lot of ideas about everything, many of which are odious, others provocative and interesting. He's a good friend of the president whom everyone assumed would end up in the administration. But if I had to pick the one area in which his philosophy would likely do the most harm, it would be running a secretive executive branch organization with the power to make- or unmake -- government regulation. So naturally that's where he ended up.


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