Sludge, sludge everywhere

Cass Sunstein explores the things that waste our precious time.

In a recent New Yorker cartoon, an exhausted-looking woman explains to a friend: “We’ve just come from a seven-hour seminar on how to fill out the 2021 mayoral-election ballot.” That’s sludge.

Sludge, according to Cass Sunstein, is whatever frictions separate us from what we want. It comes in many forms: Excessive waits. Required travel. Lengthy forms to fill out. Mandatory detailed reports. Poorly designed websites. Red tape. Or even sensible requirements that take more time than we can spare, because, as Sunstein says, “time is the most precious commodity that human beings have.”

If Sunstein feels short of time, it may be because he has written or co­authored some 60 books, including six in 2021—so far. Other than writing, he headed the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs during President Obama’s first term, has taught at the University of Chicago, Columbia, and Harvard law schools, is a recognized expert on the Star Wars franchise, and currently ranks 695th among worldwide male players in the Professional Squash Association. Surprisingly, his 2021 book titled This Is Not Normal is not an autobiography.