Regulation and Public Interests: The Possibility of Good Regulatory Government

Regulation and Public Interests: The Possibility of Good Regulatory Government

Regulation and Public Interests: The Possibility of Good Regulatory Government

Regulation and Public Interests: The Possibility of Good Regulatory Government


Not since the 1960s have U. S. politicians, Republican or Democrat, campaigned on platforms defending big government, much less the use of regulation to help solve social ills. And since the late 1970s, "deregulation" has become perhaps the most ubiquitous political catchword of all. This book takes on the critics of government regulation. Providing the first major alternative to conventional arguments grounded in public choice theory, it demonstrates that regulatory government can, and on important occasions does, advance general interests.

Unlike previous accounts, Regulation and Public Interests takes agencies' decision-making rules rather than legislative incentives as a central determinant of regulatory outcomes. Drawing from both political science and law, Steven Croley argues that such rules, together with agencies' larger decision-making environments, enhance agency autonomy. Agency personnel inclined to undertake regulatory initiatives that generate large but diffuse benefits (while imposing smaller but more concentrated costs) can use decision-making rules to develop socially beneficial regulations even over the objections of Congress and influential interest groups. This book thus provides a qualified defense of regulatory government. Its illustrative case studies include the development of tobacco rulemaking by the Food and Drug Administration, ozone and particulate matter rules by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service's "roadless" policy for national forests, and regulatory initiatives by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission.


In the United States today, mainstream attitudes toward the modern regulatory state are well captured by the joke Woody Allen tells about overhearing a lunch room conversation between two complaining inhabitants of a retirement home:

“The food here is so terrible.”

“Yeah, and always such small portions.”

On the one hand, the regulatory state—“big government,” “the bureaucracy,” “Washington”—is a target of endless criticism. Social commentators, politicians, and academicians routinely rail against the regulatory system. Calls to “downsize” government, reduce “regulatory red tape,” and promote “free enterprise” are perennial, as certain as death and taxes.

In part, this phenomenon owes to the rhetoric of politics, and also to the politics of rhetoric. Aspiring politicians promote themselves by running against big government, while established politicians emphasize their experience in navigating an overextended bureaucracy on behalf of their constituents. Not since the 1960s have either Republicans or Democrats run on a platform that defends big government, much less advocates for increased reliance on regulatory government as a solution to social problems. Thus the last Democrats to occupy the White House, for example, trumpeted their extensive efforts to “reinvent” government by relying more on market-based incentives and less on command and control. Government regulation is something to be tamed, managed, not promoted.

Similarly, academicians are rewarded professionally for debunking political institutions. By long-standing tradition, members of the academy have undertaken to show what is wrong with social and political institutions, to identify their weaknesses and paradoxes, not to celebrate what is right with them, and for good reason. So Ph.D. dissertations on Congress, the executive branch, or particular regulatory agencies far more often expose the imperfections of those institutions than they highlight . . .

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