Availability Cascades and Risk Regulation
Duke University - Department of Economics
Cass R. Sunstein
Harvard Law School
Stanford Law Review, Vol. 51, No. 4, 1999
U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 181
U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 384
An availability cascade is a self-reinforcing process of collective belief formation by which an expressed perception triggers a chain reaction that gives the perception of increasing plausibility through its rising availability in public discourse. The driving mechanism involves a combination of informational and reputational motives: Individuals endorse the perception partly by learning from the apparent beliefs of others and partly by distorting their public responses in the interest of maintaining social acceptance. Availability entrepreneurs - activists who manipulate the content of public discourse - strive to trigger availability cascades likely to advance their agendas. Their availability campaigns may yield social benefits, but sometimes they bring harm, which suggests a need for safeguards. Focusing on the role of mass pressures in the regulation of risks associated with production, consumption, and the environment, Professor Timur Kuran and Cass R. Sunstein analyze availability cascades and suggest reforms to alleviate their potential hazards. Their proposals include new governmental structures designed to give civil servants better insulation against mass demands for regulatory change and an easily accessible scientific database to reduce people's dependence on popular (mis)perceptions.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 90
Keywords: availability heuristic, informational cascades, reputational cascades, cost-benefit analysis
JEL Classification: L51, K23
Date posted: October 30, 1998
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