Sex, Drugs And Regulatory Capture

from the and-again dept

Planet Money is back at it with another great podcast highlighting how many of the recent "major issues" the world is facing -- from the financial crisis to the spewing oil in the gulf are being blamed on regulatory failures, usually in the form of a lack of oversight. The response by politicians, of course, is to look at the hammer they have, and see "more regulations" as the nail to hit. And so, we're getting all sorts of new regulations. But will they do any good? The podcast is pretty skeptical. If you're familiar with the concept of regulatory capture (and you should be) there's little in the podcast that's new. But it is a nice, succinct explanation of the concept -- with a great story from a former gov't bank regulator who worked for the agency that was regulating Savings & Loans before the big S&L crisis a couple decades ago. The response from the government was to create new regulations that "wiped out" this agency. The guy went out to watch the speech, and then went back to his building... and saw that the old name had been taken down, and in its place was the new name of the "new" regulatory agency created by this new regulation: the Office of Thrift Supervision, and his "new" job at the same desk doing the same thing as before. And, of course, the Office of Thrift Supervision was the regulatory agency behind AIG and many of the problems that resulted in the financial mess we're still digging our way out of today.

The problem -- then, as is happening now -- is that any time you set up a regulatory agency, even if it has the best of intentions, those who are regulated will either find loopholes or get enough influence over the agency to create loopholes (in the extreme case discussed in the podcast, this even includes "sexual relations" and drug use between regulators and those they regulate). Regulatory capture is what happens when you have regulations that are supposed to "protect" people from an industry -- but where that industry gets more and more say in how that agency regulates and how those rules are interpreted. The end result is often worse than no regulation at all.


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 5:35pm

    ALL ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES!

    The problem -- then, as is happening now -- is that any time you set up a regulatory agency, even if it has the best of intentions, those who are regulated will either find loopholes or get enough influence over the agency to create loopholes

    Yep, even law enforcement agencies and that's why there should be no such thing. Anyone contemplating doing evil to someone else should have to be afraid that the victim (or their family or friends) might just kill them in retaliation. As it is now criminals can actually count on law enforcement agencies to provide them some level of protection from such retaliation! Get rid of law enforcement agencies and watch the crime rate drop!

    Law enforcement agencies have been taken over by those with money to the point that one of their main functions now is protecting the haves form the have-nots, and boy, do the haves take advantage of the have-nots as a result. Try cruising through a ritzy neighborhood late at night in a beat up old car and see if the local cops don't hassle you. Get rid of them!

    this even includes "sexual relations" and drug use between regulators and those they regulate

    Exactly! There are lots of stories about those same things happening with law enforcement agencies too! Time and time again they wind up corrupt, so get rid of them!

     

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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jun 14th, 2010 @ 5:49pm

    Hrm.

    Well, the end result in the BP case pretty much can't be worse than no regulation at all.

    The larger problem, of course, remains. The real trick is that there are no consequences. Crash the planet's economy? Poison a large body of water? Bonuses for everyone!

     

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  3.  
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    abc gum, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 6:01pm

    I wonder if the same principle applies to the patent office?

     

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  4.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jun 14th, 2010 @ 6:04pm

    Re:

    Good question. I suspect so, but at a higher level. That is, the patent "examiners" aren't the targets, but their managers et al. who set their quotas are.

     

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  5.  
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    Pixelation, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 6:11pm

    Fox running the hen house

    There is nothing like regulators getting paychecks from the industries they regulate. The fox in the hen house baby. Who watches the watchmen.

     

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  6.  
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    Karl (profile), Jun 14th, 2010 @ 6:12pm

    Re: Hrm.

    I think if there was no regulation at all, the BP case would have been an annual occurrence.

    Regulation may have its problems (many problems), but it's still better than no regulation at all.

    To misquote Winston Churchill, "Regulation is the worst system in the world, the only exceptions being all the others."

    A better solution to regulatory problems would be openness and public oversight of the regulators themselves. How this would survive the lobbying process is anyone's guess.

     

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  7.  
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    Ryan, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 6:22pm

    Re: Hrm.

    I wouldn't exactly call a 50%(and counting) drop in stock price, $1 billion+(and counting) spent in slowing the spill, the worst PR disaster in history, and being on the hook for untold amounts of cleanup, fines, and lawsuits to be "no consequences".

    But this is a case in point - undersea drilling is heavily regulated. Look where that got us. Regulatory capture means the inmates are running the asylum, and in addition to preventing little in the way of these things it adds tons of costs in bureaucratic overhead and compliance measures, hinders innovation, and often greatly increases the barriers to market entry of competition. It may actually be the primary cause of these things, a la the financial crisis. Even here, none of this would have happened if the government didn't require drilling to occur so far offshore.

    Oil spills are an infrequent occurrence not because of any regulatory mechanisms, but because they are antithetical to companies' financial interests. And I can guarantee you that the others have no desire to end up like BP. Part of why regulations are undesirable is that they give the illusion of safety and prevent more effective methods that don't involve government (like private certifications, price signals, and such) from taking hold.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 7:09pm

    Re: Re: Hrm.

    I rated your comment as insightful but I'm not sure if there is a huge difference between insightful and informative.

     

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  9.  
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    Jay (profile), Jun 14th, 2010 @ 8:13pm

    Clarifying things about "regulatory failures"

    Folks, I was taking an economics class during the end of the spending bubble right before the bubble burst.

    No matter what anyone says, the bubble burst BECAUSE of government, which caused the damned thing in the first place!

    What frustrates me about the regulatory failure is the very fact that you have the same senators extending their reach to all sorts of businesses and no one has an idea what's going on!

    Here's the thing about the failures:

    One, you need information about Freddie and Fanny ( FHLMC&FNMA)

    Two, look into GSEs (Government Sponsored Entities)

    Three, watch the fireworks as you have a private/governmental entity reap all sorts of havoc on our system for 30 years with the Community Reinvestment Act, and no one to really watch over them.

    Granted, the government changed them into a public company after the fall of the economy, but they have been doing this for the last thirty years!

    What is wrong with these two you ask? The securitizing of mortgages. Basically, they would take a handful of mortgages, wrap a bow around it, and sell them. Of course they were paid and were treated like a Government entity. Who's going to not feel safe with these GSEs? Money passed around, mortgages could be paid, and quite frankly, the system could be sustained until something came to break it.

    Enter gas prices, which started the downward spiral. People have to make a choice between gas or mortgage...

    Some people had made the mistake of getting into crazy mortgage payments that skyrocketed because of different flexible rate mortgages. You can see the demand for these houses fall through the floor.

    Quite frankly, the government was at fault for it for a long time. It just frustrates me that few people understand that the laws passed in Congress truly have far reaching effects.

     

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  10.  
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    abc gum, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 8:55pm

    Re: Clarifying things about "regulatory failures"

    What is this "spending bubble" to which you refer?

    Jay -> "the bubble burst BECAUSE of government, which caused the damned thing in the first place!"

    Really? And here I thought greedy mofos were to blame, silly me. Let me guess, you listen to AM talk radio - huh.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 14th, 2010 @ 9:07pm

    You claim that regulation isn't needed because they will always find "loop holes"

    i just imagine what they could do if they didn't have to search for "loop holes"

     

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  12.  
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    Jay (profile), Jun 14th, 2010 @ 10:18pm

    Re: Re: Clarifying things about "regulatory failures"

    "What is this "spending bubble" to which you refer?"

    I'm speaking about the sub-prime mortgage deal. That's the spending bubble. I'm describing the home mortgage crisis that supposedly Bush is to blame for, leaving it to Obama. Again, that's spin. Time magazine has a short little primer on it. When you're ready for the main course feel free. Odd that people go on about predatory lending but that's spin as well, to place the focus on the bankers. Any economist will tell you that an incentive is needed to start this process. So think... Why would a banker give someone a small rate that would jump sky high? Not just for profit... The rules were changed. What had happened was deregulation, the slow repeal of Glass-Steagall, which caused investment banks to run amok as well as the CRA I mentioned before. Basically, banks write up a number of mortgages to Freddie and Fannie, which I believe will cause grief in the future since they own about 58% of home mortgages. Public or not, what would happen if someone else defaults on those?

    "Really? And here I thought greedy mofos were to blame, silly me. Let me guess, you listen to AM talk radio - huh."

    Nice to know that you were paying attention. Greedy mofos are on both parts of the field. It's not just greedy businessmen but greedy politicians too. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm getting back to Pandora. They're playing a new song I like.

     

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    Richard (profile), Jun 15th, 2010 @ 3:04am

    The problem with regulation

    The most common problem is that all the expertise needed for good regulation tends to reside within the group that is being regulated.

    Those who are supposed to represent the public tend to lack the knowledge necessary to do a good job and hence fall easy victim to lobbying.

    This state continues until there is a disaster big enough for the press to make a fuss.

    At that point a flipover occurs, the industry in question gets subjected to the whims of those with an extreme agenda and limited knowledge. From then on even the honest voices of those who know what they are talking about are discredited. This has happened to the nuclear industry, to GM crops (in Europe) and looks likely to happen to offshore drilling in the near future.

    The message to those who would try "regulatory capture" as a strategy is that you risk a really big disaster if you get found out.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 4:34am

    Re: Re: Re: Clarifying things about "regulatory failures"

    What had happened was deregulation, the slow repeal of Glass-Steagall, which caused investment banks to run amok as well as the CRA I mentioned before.

    Unless I'm missing the obvious, that seems to be a point in favor of regulation, not deregulation.

    As I've seen it (not being a financial expert) the CDOs were built on two different sandy beaches:

    * The price people will pay for housing will continue to go up

    * The economy will not go down significantly at any time

    Now granted, there's been a generation for which this has been substantially true, but aren't the people who deal with finance for a living supposed to understand the concept of hedging your bets?

     

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  15.  
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    abc gum, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 5:12am

    Re: Re: Re: Clarifying things about "regulatory failures"

    "What is this "spending bubble" to which you refer?"
    Jay -> I'm speaking about the sub-prime mortgage deal.

    I assume you make up this new bubble name. Other bubble names were much more descriptive. Perhaps sub-prime mortgage Bubble would be more appropriate, then other people might know what you were talking about. That is a nice summary of the newly named bubble, however it was unnecessary as I'm sure everyone here is quite aware of what transpired. Not sure why you added the both parts of the field thing ... possibly in response to the AM radio slam.

     

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  16.  
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    abc gum, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 5:28am

    Re: The problem with regulation

    "all the expertise needed for good regulation tends to reside within the group that is being regulated. "
    ...
    "Those who are supposed to represent the public tend to lack the knowledge necessary to do a good job"


    I'm sure there are plenty of people outside the various industries who are quite capable of understanding the details. It is even possible that these people know more about what it takes to perform the job correctly.

    "This state continues until there is a disaster big enough for the press to make a fuss."

    Nothing is happens (or is wrong) until the press is involved ?

    "whims of those with an extreme agenda and limited knowledge."

    Are you referring to congress?

    "This has happened to the nuclear industry, to GM crops (in Europe) and looks likely to happen to offshore drilling in the near future."

    You say this as if the regulation were a bad thing. These types of industry need oversight because there is a potential to seriously mess up - a lot and business does not always have everyone elses best interests in mind.

     

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  17.  
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    Jay (profile), Jun 15th, 2010 @ 7:14am

    "I assume you make up this new bubble name. Other bubble names were much more descriptive. Perhaps sub-prime mortgage Bubble would be more appropriate, then other people might know what you were talking about. That is a nice summary of the newly named bubble, however it was unnecessary as I'm sure everyone here is quite aware of what transpired."

    Uhm... No? Basically something to get the point across about the bubble itself. If I say Tech Bubble, people would generate to the early 90s when the internet took off for sites such as pets.com but no money was coming back.

    The summary is for those that may not have understood what transpired and want to learn more about it. It's also to clarify any issues with CDOs.

    The government needs some type of oversight so that business doesn't run amok. Those posts were mainly to clarify that position that the government is squarely in this mess, not necessarily our savior by reverting back to a standard that kept us safe in the first place.

    "Not sure why you added the both parts of the field thing ... possibly in response to the AM radio slam."

    Throwing out a challenge of knowledge or age is likely to be responded to in the same way.

    ;)

     

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  18.  
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    Gene Cavanaughg, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 5:52pm

    Regulation and does it help?

    You are totally missing the point.
    As long as it takes obscene amounts of money to be elected, and for most politicians that means welfare for the wealthy, ANY regulatory scheme will be showcase stuff only - there will always be ways around it, because that is what the wealthy "donors" (rhymes with "owners") want.
    Don't tell me for a minute that if I am in charge, and I want things a certain way, I can't find a way to achieve that - but if my true motive is to look like I am for the not-wealthy, but actually for the wealthy (BP is an example), then of course "I can't get it to work".

     

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  19.  
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    abc gum, Jun 15th, 2010 @ 8:22pm

    Re:

    "If I say Tech Bubble, people would generate to the early 90s when the internet took off for sites such as pets.com"

    I think you refer to what has been commonly called the dotcom bubble.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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