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The Paranoid Style in Regulatory Reform

Jodi L. Short

University of California Hastings College of the Law

January 12, 2011

Hastings Law Journal, 2012
Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 11-10

The U.S. administrative state has been involved in a decades-long regulatory reform project encompassing both a shift away from what have been characterized as “command-and-control” approaches to regulation and toward approaches that are more market-oriented, managerial, participatory and self-regulatory in their orientation. Through a content analysis of the nearly 1,400 law review articles that comprise the legal critique of regulation between 1980 and 2005, I show that the most salient critiques of regulation concern neither its cost nor its inefficiency, as many have assumed. Instead, they express a deep-seated anxiety about the fundamentally coercive nature of administrative government. In addition, I demonstrate that “voluntary” or “self-regulation” approaches that enlist regulated entities and citizens to perform core governmental functions like standard-setting, monitoring and enforcement emerged from the reform debate with particular prominence. Using both statistical and interpretive inference, I argue that framing regulation as a problem of coercive state power created a logic of governance uniquely suited to self-regulatory solutions that promised non-coercive ways of governing. After presenting my empirical analysis, I situate the coercive state rhetoric of late-twentieth-century regulatory reform in broader historical context, highlighting its continuities and discontinuities with the coercive state rhetoric that has infused debates about expanded federal governance throughout U.S. history: at the founding, during the New Deal, and in the postwar period. I argue that proponents of government regulation must recognize and engage this deep-seated anxiety about state coercion. Before a convincing and durable case can be made for any particular regulatory policy, a case must be made for the state.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 87

Keywords: regulatory reform, administrative law, coercion, efficiency

JEL Classification: K08, K28, K23

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Date posted: January 13, 2011 ; Last revised: November 14, 2012

Suggested Citation

Short, Jodi L., The Paranoid Style in Regulatory Reform (January 12, 2011). Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 11-10; Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 11-10. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1739015

Contact Information

Jodi L. Short (Contact Author)
University of California Hastings College of the Law ( email )
200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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