| Dick Langlois |
I seem to be on the “communitarianism” mailing list of Amitai Etzioni, missives from which are usually good for a cold frisson of annoyance. The most recent one seemed promising, however, as it touted a paper revisiting the capture theory of regulation. Many people have rightly criticized the Dodd-Frank Act for piling on unnecessary administrative regulation despite the fact that (A) regulation was already extensive and provided all the powers that would have been needed to avert the crisis and (B) much of the new regulation is aimed at activities that have nothing to do with the financial crisis. Etzioni points out that the potential for regulatory capture is an additional reason for concern. Quite so. Dependably, however, Etzioni comes to the wrong conclusion about the nature of the problem and how to fix it. To Etzioni, the problem is not the inherent liabilities of administrative regulation but the specter of private money corrupting the system. (Notably, his examples do not include the money of labor unions, which have captured, at the very least, vast swaths of the Labor and Education Departments.) As political speech is a topic on which I have already fulminated at some length, I will just add that, even in a world in which regulators were somehow insulated from financial temptation, there would still be capture: the operation of regulatory agencies depends on the possession of large amounts of specialized knowledge in whose generation the subjects of regulation have considerable, and oftentimes overwhelming, advantage.