The Revolving Door

45 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2014 Last revised: 29 Sep 2015

See all articles by Wentong Zheng

Wentong Zheng

University of Florida Levin College of Law

Date Written: June 5, 2014


The revolving door between the government and the private sector has long been presumed to lead to the capture of regulators by industry interests. A growing body of empirical literature, however, either finds no conclusive evidence of a capture effect or finds evidence of an opposite effect ― that the revolving door indeed results in more aggressive, not less aggressive, regulatory actions. To account for these incongruous results, scholars have formulated and tested a new “human-capital” theory positing that revolving-door regulators have incentives to be more aggressive towards the regulated industry as a way of signaling their qualifications to prospective industry employers.

But even with the insights offered by the human-capital theory, the prevailing analyses of the revolving door are still incomplete. This Article theorizes on yet another incentive created by the revolving door that deserves being recognized as a structural force inherent in the regulatory process: the incentive for regulators to expand the market demand for services they would be providing when they exit the government. This “market-expansion” incentive may manifest itself differently in different regulatory settings. In the enforcement setting, it may result in more enforcement actions, broadened jurisdictional reach of the enforcement actions, and higher penalties in the enforcement actions. In the rulemaking setting, it may result in agencies’ expanded rulemaking authority, the use of flexible standards rather than bright-line rules, and agencies’ preference for complex as opposed to simple rules or standards.

This market-expansion theory represents a paradigmatic shift in conceptualizing the role of individual regulators in the regulatory process. Contrary to the prevailing analyses, which posit that revolving-door regulators take the industry’s needs as given and merely respond to those needs, the market-expansion theory suggests that revolving-door regulators may exert efforts to expand the industry’s needs. Recognizing this market-expansion incentive has important implications for a wide range of policy issues, including agency aggrandizement, over-enforcement versus under-enforcement, regulatory settlements, compliance monitors, private rights of action, and professional responsibility.

Suggested Citation

Zheng, Wentong, The Revolving Door (June 5, 2014). 90 Notre Dame Law Review 1265 (2015), University of Florida Levin College of Law Research Paper No. 15-16, Available at SSRN:

Wentong Zheng (Contact Author)

University of Florida Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States
352-273-0936 (Phone)

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