What Stops Us from Getting Things Done and What to Do about It

By Cass R. Sunstein

How we became so burdened by red tape and unnecessary paperwork, and why we must do better.





How we became so burdened by red tape and unnecessary paperwork, and why we must do better.

We've all had to fight our way through administrative sludge—filling out complicated online forms, mailing in paperwork, standing in line at the motor vehicle registry. This kind of red tape is a nuisance, but, as Cass Sunstein shows in Sludge, it can also impair health, reduce growth, entrench poverty, and exacerbate inequality. Confronted by sludge, people just give up—and lose a promised outcome: a visa, a job, a permit, an educational opportunity, necessary medical help. In this lively and entertaining look at the terribleness of sludge, Sunstein explains what we can do to reduce it.

Because of sludge, Sunstein explains, too many people don't receive benefits to which they are entitled. Sludge even prevents many people from exercising their constitutional rights—when, for example, barriers to voting in an election are too high. (A Sludge Reduction Act would be a Voting Rights Act.) Sunstein takes readers on a tour of the not-so-wonderful world of sludge, describes justifications for certain kinds of sludge, and proposes “Sludge Audits” as a way to measure the effects of sludge. On balance, Sunstein argues, sludge infringes on human dignity, making people feel that their time and even their lives don't matter. We must do better.


$24.95 T ISBN: 9780262045780 166 pp. | 5.25 in x 8 in 0


$18.95 T ISBN: 9780262545082 166 pp. | 5.25 in x 8 in 0


  • “In SLUDGE, Sunstein shines a light in the bureaucratic darkness, and, by calling for “sludge audits,” adds his moral authority to the growing demand to clear out the bureaucratic underbrush.”

    Education Next

  • If nudges have a mortal enemy, or perhaps the equivalent of antimatter to matter, it's “sludge.” Sunstein uses this term to describe unnecessarily effortful processes, bureaucratic procedures, and other barriers to desirable outcomes. Cass Sunstein has exposed this conflict head-on in his new book, Sludge: What Stops Us from Getting Things Done and What to Do about It. He shows how the most effective government programs, Medicare and Social Security, reach almost all eligible citizens because the government does the recordkeeping and offers simple enrollment processes to receive benefits.



  • “Sludge prevents people from accessing things—money, resources—that they are entitled to, but it hurts vulnerable populations even more. Sunstein provides an excellent treatise on how to combat the evil cousin of 'nudge'!”

    Dilip Soman

    Canada Research Chair in Behavioral Sciences and Economics, University of Toronto

  • “For those doing battle with procedural waste, persistent inequality, or demotivation, Sludge offers an indispensable set of tools to remove sticky impediments—and a lens that will the change the way we develop, implement, and assess policy.”

    Cait Lamberton

    Alberto I. Duran President's Distinguished Professor of Marketing, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

  • “In this eminently readable and important book, Cass Sunstein details the little frictions—be they incomprehensible forms or hours spent in the rain waiting to vote—that stop us from getting what we want, including how sludge can steal our time, and even our dignity, in the process. Sludge should be required reading for anyone interested in public policy.”

    Pamela Herd

    Professor of Public Affairs, McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University

  • “In Sludge, Cass Sunstein exposes the red tape that permeates our daily lives. He shows that some of it is unavoidable but much of it can be reduced or eliminated. Doing so would not simply make the lives of businesses, farmers, doctors, students, and the poor more productive; it would save lives, strengthen our democracy, and make life more enjoyable. Sludge is gracefully written and very compelling.”

    John D. Graham

    Professor of Public Affairs, Indiana University, and former U.S. Office of Management and Budget “regulatory czar”