The Crisis of Confidence in U.S. Regulation, An HKS Regulatory Policy Program Seminar

October 12, 2012
Catherine Leland MPP 2013

Why do leaders from across the political spectrum blame regulation for so many of today’s problems? What can be done to improve regulatory effectiveness? Matthew Baum and Richard Zeckhauser dissected these questions along with former Regulatory Policy Program (RPP) faculty chair, Cary Coglianese in a seminar on October 11.

Regulatory Breakdown: RPP seminar, October 11, 2012 from M-RCBG on Vimeo.

The trio discussed media’s impact on political attitudes toward regulation in the United States. Noting a trend toward “self-segregated information streams,” Baum, Marvin Kalb Professor of Global Communications, explained that people tend to consume news based on their preferences.

This has resulted in polarization of news media and audiences. Baum concluded, “There is a very strong relationship between consumption and attitudes on [regulation].” He emphasized that polarization through information streams will become increasingly potent, weighing heavily on regulatory policymakers.
Richard Zeckhauser, the Frank P. Ramsey Professor of Political Economy, explored regulatory policy’s connection to disasters. “Just like generals are good at fighting the last war, we are good at fighting the last crisis,” Zeckhauser began.
Regulatory policy is often a knee-jerk reaction to a major disaster. Contrasting elaborate airport security with virtually non-existent port security, Zeckhauser explained, “We have the wrong kind of regulation – too much regulation over here, too little regulation over there.” Instead of responding to yesterday’s crisis, we should be “confronting the unknown and the unknowable.” Zeckhauser emphasized that most of the problems we worry about today were not news just a few years ago.
These themes and ideas can be found in a new book, “Regulatory Breakdown: The Crisis of Confidence in U.S. Regulation” (2012, UPenn Press), which Baum and Zeckhauser both contributed to and is edited by Coglianese.
“Regulatory Breakdown” became available in August and covers a wide range of topic areas, including energy and environment, health care, housing, and food and drug regulations, regulatory capture, and regulatory ossification.
The seminar is part of a seven-seminar series sponsored this fall by the Regulatory Policy Program(RPP) at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government. The series explores new directions in regulation. RPP serves as a catalyst and clearinghouse for the study of regulation across Harvard University. The program's objectives are to cross-pollinate research, spark new lines of inquiry, and increase the connection between theory and practice. For more information about RPP’s seminar series, please visit:

Richard Zeckhauser

Richard Zeckhauser, Frank P. Ramsey Professor of Political Economy

“We have the wrong kind of regulation – too much regulation over here, too little regulation over there,” said Zeckhauser.


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