Efficiency, Liberty and Equality: Three Ethical Justifications for Regulatory Reform
Osgoode Hall Law Journal, Vol. 20, p. 512, 1982
12 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2008
Date Written: 1982
The call for regulatory reform is supported by essentially three kinds of arguments. First, there is the general claim that most regulation has been dominated by redistributive concerns, and that existing policies should be reoriented towards the pursuit of economic efficiency. Second, libertarians argue that some forms of regulation unjustly restrain the exercise of individual freedoms. Third, there is the political concern that regulatory processes suffer from systemic imbalances in the representation of affected interests and that institutional reforms are necessary to correct these biases.
In this article, it is argued, first, that the efficiency argument for regulatory change is logically inconsistent because it incorporates a measure of value that does not promote its stated goal. Second, it is argued that the libertarian argument for regulatory reform is seriously inadequate because it fails to articulate a conception of the good that is necessary for identifying the particular forms of liberty that it seeks to protect. Third, it is argued that the "imbalanced representation" argument, while advancing an attractive conception of political equality, provides only partial and uncertain support for the particular institutional reforms that have been proposed. It is argued that the uncertain basis for these reforms is attributable to an exclusively result- or output-oriented conception of political equality.
The main purpose of this article is to criticize the coherence and completeness of the three principal arguments currently advanced on behalf of regulatory reform. A difficulty is that it may be misconstrued as an affirmative defence of the regulatory status quo. But the status quo stands as much in need of ethical justification as any proposed reform. While the article does not attempt to provide an alternative normative framework for justifying either regulatory change or maintenance of the status quo, it should clarify some of the ethical issues for those who are willing to undertake these more constructive tasks.
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