Regulating the Raters: The Law and Economics of Ratings Firms
Robert W. Hahn
University of Oxford, Smith School; Georgetown University
Charles River Associates
AEI-Brookings Joint Center Working Paper No. 06-02
Consumers and producers frequently rely on product ratings, such as college rankings, restaurant reviews and bond ratings. While much has been written about the structure of ratings in particular industries, little has been written on the general structure of different ratings industries and whether government intervention is typically needed. This paper begins that inquiry by examining the market structure of different ratings industries, and considering the circumstances under which firms that provide ratings should be regulated. The issue is particularly timely in light of recent calls to rethink the regulation of media ratings and credit ratings.
We find that ratings firms in different industries share several common features. For example, most ratings firms operate in highly concentrated markets. Some factors that could make ratings markets more concentrated include economies of scale, benefits from having a single standard, and general agreement on what should be measured. We also find that most ratings firms determine their own testing standards and methods, although some industries have self-governing oversight bodies that offer their own accreditation standards. While the government regulates firm entry for a few ratings industries, this is relatively rare. The vast majority of ratings firms are unregulated.
We analyze the question of regulation using an economic framework that focuses on the viability and effectiveness of a proposed policy. Despite the finding that many ratings industries are concentrated, our analysis suggests that market forces generally appear to be an effective mechanism for providing consumers and producers with useful ratings. In most cases, such markets do not require government intervention. Moreover, in industries characterized by rapid technological change the government is likely to do more harm than good by intervening. As an alternative to government regulation, voluntary industry oversight bodies may be effective in improving communication between the parties and in improving transparency in rating procedures.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 62
Keywords: product ratings, rating industries, market forces
JEL Classification: H00working papers series
Date posted: March 6, 2006
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