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Availability Cascades and Risk Regulation

Timur Kuran

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

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Date posted: October 30, 1998  

Suggested Citation

Kuran, Timur and Sunstein, Cass R., Availability Cascades and Risk Regulation. 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. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=138144

Contact Information

Timur Kuran
Duke University - Department of Economics ( email )
213 Social Sciences Building
Box 90097
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States
Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)
Harvard Law School ( email )
1575 Massachusetts Ave
Areeda Hall 225
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2291 (Phone)
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