NewYorkUniversity
LawReview

Issues

Author

Cass R. Sunstein

Results

Group Judgments: Statistical Means, Deliberation, and Information Markets

Cass R. Sunstein

How can groups elicit and aggregate the information held by their individual members? There are three possibilities. Groups might use the statistical mean of individual judgments; they might encourage deliberation; or they might use information markets. In both private and public institutions, deliberation is the standard way of proceeding; but for two reasons, deliberating groups often fail to make good decisions. First, the statements and acts of some group members convey relevant information, and that information often leads other people not to disclose what they know. Second, social pressures, imposed by some group members, often lead other group members to silence themselves because of fear of disapproval and associated harms. As a result, deliberation often produces a series of unfortunate results: the amplification of errors, hidden profiles, cascade effects, and group polarization. A variety of steps can be taken to ensure that deliberating groups obtain the information held by their members; restructuring private incentives, in a way that increases disclosure, is the place to start. Information markets have substantial advantages over group deliberation; such markets count among the most intriguing institutional innovations of the last quarter-century and should be used far more frequently than they now are. One advantage of information markets is that they tend to correct, rather than to amplify, the effects of individual errors. Another advantage is that they create powerful incentives to disclose, rather than to conceal, privately held information. Information markets thus provide the basis for a Hayekian critique of many current celebrations of political deliberation. They also provide a valuable heuristic for understanding how to make deliberation work better. These points bear on the discussion of normative issues, in which deliberation might also fail to improve group thinking, and in which identifiable reforms could produce better outcomes. Applications include the behavior of juries, multimember judicial panels, administrative agencies, and congressional committees; analogies, also involving information aggregation, include open source software, Internet “wikis,” and weblogs.

Switching the Default Rule

Cass R. Sunstein

There is a standard analysis of default rules in contract law, including those forms of contract law that fall under the label of employment law. But behavioral economics raises many complications. Professor Cass R. Sunstein explains that the default rule can create an endowment effect, making employees value certain rights more, simply because they have been granted such rights in the first instance. New evidence, based on a survey of law students, is introduced to show a significant endowment effect in the context of vacation time. Similarly, the default rule for savings plans, set by employers or by law, seems to have a large effect on employee behavior. When the default rule affects preferences and behavior, conventional economic analysis seems indeterminate; either default rule can be efficient. In employment law, analysis of distributive consequences also suggests the difficulty of deciding which default rule to favor, because any switch in the rule is unlikely to have significant redistributive effects. Nonetheless, switching the default rule can, in certain circumstances, have desirable effects on workers’ welfare. A central question is whether the stickiness of the default rule reflects a genuine change in values, or instead, employee confusion or bargaining strategy.