Regulatory Capture Underground and At Sea

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Regulatory Capture

By James Kwak

First there was the financial crisis. Then there was the West Virginia mine explosion. Now we have the BP oil leak. In each case, we were treated to news stories about the cozy relationships between the industry and the regulators who were supposed to be regulating it. (Here’s the latest New York Times story on how the Minerals Management Service was captured by industry — a problem that has existed for a long time, but that the Obama administration apparently did little to fix.)

Occasionally people say that the story we tell in 13 Bankers is really the same in every industry. That would not surprise me. I do think that the financial sector is unusual for a couple of reasons. One is that the interconnections between the major financial institutions make each one too big to fail in a way that, say, Enron was not. Another is that modern finance is so complex that it makes it easier for industry lobbyists to run roughshod over congressional opponents. But the problem of regulatory capture is obviously not restricted to finance, and it is a problem that we are seeing all over.

I’ve been meaning to write about this, but I haven’t had and won’t have the time. Arianna Huffington wrote an article on the parallels between the financial crisis and the West Virginia mine disaster. Lawrence Baxter has two recent posts (on his new blog) on regulatory capture and the role of regulation. Obviously this problem is not easily solved, especially in the wake of the Citizens United decision, which gave corporations even more influence over our political life. But hopefully the BP oil leak will produce a wave of anger — and a demand for answers — similar to what the financial crisis gave rise to.

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