The State of Federal Regulation

With the financial meltdown and the increasingly-disturbing oil spill, the efficacy of federal regulation is very much in question.  The New Yorker‘s James Surowiecki sees it as a “good government gone bad” problem.

These failures weren’t accidents. They were the all too predictable result of the deregulationary fervor that has gripped Washington in recent years, pushing the message that most regulation is unnecessary at best and downright harmful at worst. The result is that agencies have often been led by people skeptical of their own duties. This gave us the worst of both worlds: too little supervision encouraged corporate recklessness, while the existence of these agencies encouraged public complacency.

I’m pretty sure he uses the word “deregulation” incorrectly here, at least in a conventional sense. His argument is more along the lines that enforcement of (some) regulations has become more relaxed. Of course, economists of the public choice stripe would probably point to the coziness between regulators and the regulated as a predictable result of the political process.

Drawing partly on Daniel Carpenter’s epic new book, Surowiecki points to the FDA as an example of a “consistently effective.” Of course, many economists have pointed at FDA as an example of an agency that exercises too much caution.

Whether that is accurate or not, Megan McArdle has an interesting article in the most recent Atlantic Monthly discussing why the number of drugs coming to market has been going down.  The McArdle piece is especially discouraging with the backdrop of a New York Times piece on the failure of the human genome project to reveal breakthroughs in treatment.

And then there’s this just in.