The continuing relevance of the bootlegger-and-Baptist model

Lynne Kiesling

In 1983 Bruce Yandle wrote an influential article in Regulation, “Bootleggers and Baptists: The Education of a Regulatory Economist”. His model explains how two parties with seemingly incongruent values can come together to get a regulation passed that meets the objectives of both parties. In the bootlegger and Baptist case, both parties benefit from restrictions on Sunday alcohol sales, and will therefore lobby politicians in favor of such restrictions. The bootlegger-and-Baptist model even has its own Wikipedia page. It’s a very powerful model for understanding coalition formation and regulation in many situations.

Recently in Newsweek George Will wrote about Yandle’s model in a column striking a cautionary note about the current increase in government regulation and involvement in the economy. To illustrate the dynamics and the incentives, Will discusses two cases: sulfur dioxide emission regulation via technology mandates, and tobacco regulation.

Will’s column is a good introduction to the bootlegger-and-Baptist model, which really is relevant in many settings and robust to a lot of different contexts. I find it particularly relevant when applied to environmental regulation.