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How Could Less Red Tape Make Societies More Equal?

How Could Less Red Tape Make Societies More Equal? | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

From left to right: Cass R. Sunstein and Nikita Stewart.

A Zócalo/Pacific Council on International Policy Event
Moderated by Nikita Stewart, Assistant Metro Editor, New York Times

To merely open a bank account or secure a driver’s license, people around the world face one common barrier: paperwork. Americans, in fact, spend 11.4 billion hours a year on federal paperwork alone. Harvard legal scholar Cass R. Sunstein, former administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, has a name for this kind of drudgery: sludge. Sludge, he argues, doesn’t just cost time, money, and dignity—it does an immense amount of damage to society’s most vulnerable people. Bureaucratic red tape—“volokita” as it’s known in Russian—hinders everything from gaining access to food to securing healthcare. How could less paperwork help the least wealthy, least healthy, and least educated improve their station in life? Have any countries or institutions figured out what it would take to make this happen? Sunstein, author most recently of Sludge: What Stops Us from Getting Things Done and What to Do about It, visits Zócalo to talk about eliminating the piles of paperwork obscuring our path to a more equal world.

The Takeaway

The Paperwork Poverty Trap | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

The Paperwork Poverty Trap

How Forms, Long Lines, and Other Types of Bureaucratic Sludge Hold Everyone Back—Especially the Most Vulnerable

Cass R. Sunstein has thought a great deal about sludge. No, not the wastewater treatment byproduct, but the “yucky stuff” we are all doomed to encounter in our daily lives, …