Can Deregulation Work?

How successful is the president's recently announced deregulatory initiative likely to be? Based on my experience at two regulatory agencies (the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Product Safety Commission) during the Reagan years, I am not optimistic.

President Reagan was serious about deregulation and appointed agency heads--Jim Miller at the FTC, Terry Scanlon at the CPSC--who were also serious. In turn they appointed determined managers like me, and they backed us up.

We did some good, but it was not easy. The permanent staffs of the agencies were always interested in more regulation, either because of self-selection or because promotions and power increase in a larger agency. It also helped that we deregulators (generally economists) were not usually interested in permanent government positions, because reducing the power of the agency is a sure way to make enemies.

Although my mandate was to cut back, I spent more time fighting new proposals than getting rid of old ones. The staffs wanted more, not less. Whenever I met acquaintances from other agencies the invariable comment was "You won't believe what they want to do now." ("They" were the permanent staffs.)

The current regulatory agencies are not going to hire or promote people like me. Without managers with a strong interest in deregulation and with the backing of senior administrators, there will be no serious power to buck the staffs. The current executive order seems to impose cost-benefit analysis, but it has enough loopholes ("equity, human dignity, fairness") so that agencies will be able to do whatever they want.

Deregulation was hard even under Reagan. I am afraid it will be impossible under Mr. Obama.

Paul H. Rubin is an adjunct scholar at AEI.

Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014 | 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
The Constitution as political theory

Please join us for the third-annual Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture as James Ceasar, Harry F. Byrd Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, explores some of the Constitution’s most significant contributions to political theory, focusing on themes that have been largely unexamined in current scholarship.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 | 8:10 a.m. – Thursday, September 18, 2014 | 1:30 p.m.
Third international conference on housing risk: New risk measures and their applications

We invite you to join us for this year’s international conference on housing risk — cosponsored by the Collateral Risk Network and AEI International Center on Housing Risk — which will focus on new mortgage and collateral risk measures and their applications.

Thursday, September 18, 2014 | 2:15 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Speaker of the House John Boehner on resetting America’s economic foundation

Please join us as Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) delivers his five-point policy vision to reset America’s economy.

Friday, September 19, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Reforming Medicare: What does the public think?

Please join us as a panel of distinguished experts explore the implications of the report and the consumer role in shaping the future of Medicare.

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