I enjoyed this “Room for Debate” article on the necessity of regulation and strongly disagreed with Ian Adams. Companies are NOT going to regulate themselves well. The safety and environmental practices of oil companies in the late ’80’s and ’90’s, when oil prices were at an inflation-adjusted low, convinced me of that. No (Almost no?) company will lose money in order to comply with expensive regulations
However, compared to some countries, the US politicizes its regulation and forces particular geographic areas to bear the costs of federal regulation. (If we would allow removal of dead trees and/or limited logging on public lands, forest fires in the West might be less severe.) In China, the bureaucrats are all from one party, so they can focus on the technical, economic and social effects of their policies, rather than whether a particular policy will appeal to a party’s base.
In addition to understanding technical aspects of policies, regulators also need to be knowledgeable and to understand unintended consequences. In my opinion, they should be non-partisan. I can imagine an appropriate role for academics in drafting regulation, since they are less vulnerable to corporate volatility and profit demands than people employed by companies in competition with one another.
What skills would it take to become a good regulator? Would you have any interest in this type of career, or is regulatory policy so convoluted and partisan that real improvement is virtually hopeless?