Regulation: A Primer

Lynne Kiesling

Susan Dudley of George Washington University and the Mercatus Center and Jerry Brito of the Mercatus Center have recently released an update of their useful analysis, Regulation: A Primer. Whether you are a student interested in learning more about the theory and practice of federal regulation, someone who works in an industry with regulations that you would like to understand better, or just someone who would like to know more about what regulation is and how it affects our daily lives, this analysis is clear and accessible.

The primer provides an overview of the scope of federal regulations, the theory underlying regulation, how regulation is implemented at the federal level, and some of the differentiating aspects of social (health, safety, environmental) and economic regulation. For those of us who work on regulation in particular areas or industries, the point of this primer is not detail about the specifics of regulation, but is rather to provide broad information about federal regulation in all of its manifestations. That’s the particular reason why it’s a valuable document — for example, one chapter describes the various Executive Orders that shape how regulation is supposed to be implemented and evaluated pre- and post-implementation. Another chapter describes the Administrative Procedure Act, when it applies, and what its procedural implications are; if you have ever submitted an expert comment to a regulatory agency in response to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (as I have done at FERC with Brian Mannix, and I know Mike and I have done jointly, although I can’t find a good link), the APA is what determines what you and the agency do and how it gets handled. There’s a lot of valuable information here that I wish I had known before I worked on those comments!

Another valuable aspect of how they’ve approached their subject is the integration of political economy and public choice analysis directly into the work, pointing out that the incentives of policymakers and agency bureaucrats influence how regulations get proposed, evaluated, and promulgated (and very rarely eliminated).

If you are one of our electricity colleagues who comes from more of an engineering background, you would definitely get some perspective on the regulatory institutions and processes that affect your daily work. In particular, I’d focus on Chapters 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8, but it’s well written and clear, so the entire primer is straightforward for non-specialists.

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