How much information is too much? Do we need to know how many calories are in the giant vat of popcorn that we bought on our way into the movie theater? Do we want to know if we are genetically predisposed to a certain disease? Can we do anything useful with next weeks weather forecast for Paris if we are not in Paris? In Too Much Information, Cass Sunstein examines the effects of information on our lives. Policymakers emphasize the right to know, but Sunstein takes a different perspective, arguing that the focus should be on human well-being and what information contributes to it. Government should require companies, employers, hospitals, and others to disclose information not because of a general right to know but when the information in question would significantly improve peoples lives.
Our information avoidance and information seeking is notably heterogeneoussome of us do want to know the popcorn calorie count, others do not. Of course, says Sunstein, we are better off with stop signs, warnings on prescription drugs, and reminders about payment due dates. But sometimes less is more. What we need is more clarity about what information is actually doing or achieving.
Cass R. Sunstein, Professor at Harvard Law School, was Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration. He is the author of, among other books, The Cost-Benefit Revolution, How Change Happens, and Nudge. Eldar Shafir is Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. He is a behavioral scientist and economist and the co-author of the influential book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much