Q: How do we regulate in the face of rapid, complex technological innovation?

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The question for today is what do the recent spill and the financial crash have in common? Kenneth Rogoff has an opinion piece about the difficulty of regulation amid rapid technological advance.

The parallels between the oil spill and the recent financial crisis are all too painful: the promise of innovation, unfathomable complexity, and lack of transparency…  Wealthy and politically powerful lobbies put enormous pressure on even the most robust governance structures.

And it doesn’t stop there at all.

The basic problem of complexity, technology, and regulation extends to many other areas of modern life. Nanotechnology and innovation in developing artificial organisms offer a huge potential boon to mankind, promising development of new materials, medicines, and treatment techniques. Yet, with all of these exciting technologies, it is extremely difficult to strike a balance between managing “tail risk” – a very small risk of a very large disaster – and supporting innovation.

So in a world of rapid technological advance, what is the role in public policy in capturing the benefits while also mitigating the risks? Is “the market” best left to its own devices? Certainly, we have addressed this question in other forms.

I don’t have any answers, and you aren’t likely to find any either. But the point of a lot of what we do on Briggs 2nd is to try to frame and analyze problems, understand what the issues are, the potential winners and losers, and have a discussion about how to proceed.  I hope this helps.

Rogoff’s column is here.

He is also the author of This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. You can find a paper version here and the book here.