Regulatory Bedfellows

Thursday, April 23, 2015

George Will reviews a book titled, Bootleggers and Baptists: How Economic Forces and Moral Persuasion Interact to Shape Regulatory Politics. His whole review is worth a read, but here is the central idea:

In 1983, [author] Bruce Yandle, then a Clemson University economist who now is at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, had an epiphany: Regulations often come from a counterintuitive convergence of pressures from two groups, the earnestness of one providing cover for the other's avarice. In his example, Baptists wanted laws closing liquor stores on Sundays to promote piety, and bootleggers wanted such laws to create an unserved market. [link removed]
Will elaborates on this point with current examples and speculates on how this might play out with other things, such as e-cigarettes. I think the analysis is correct, at least on the level of how the perverse incentives made possible by government meddling shape pressure group warfare. I also agree that there can be some value to the demystification and deromanticization of government regulators.

That said, I don't see any substitute for questioning the propriety of such regulations in the first place, an element I don't see in Will's piece or gather to be present in the book. Were that question more common, perhaps supporters of proper government could realize another possible value from the book: An understanding of this phenomenon could be useful in helping unravel the regulatory state. I could see this knowledge being helpful, for example, in terms of helping expose who "benefits" (or might) from some particular regulation, and thereby how to begin swaying public opinion in favor of ridding ourselves of it.

-- CAV

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