On Neglecting Regulatory Benefits

11 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2020

See all articles by Cass R. Sunstein

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: February 20, 2020


The administrative state faces a pervasive problem: “benefit neglect,” understood as insufficient attention to the benefits of regulation. In 2017, for example, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13771, calling for a regulatory budget of $0 and directing agencies to eliminate two regulations for every regulation that they issue. The order has two laudable ambitions: to reduce the stock of existing regulations and to stem the flow of new regulations. But because it entirely ignores the benefits of regulations and focuses only on costs, it is a singularly crude instrument for achieving those goals. In both theory and practice, it threatens to impose large net costs (including significant increases in mortality and morbidity). It would be much better to abandon the idea of a regulatory budget, focused solely on costs, and instead to engage in two sustained but independent efforts:

(1) a continuing “look back” at existing regulations, with the goal of simplifying or eliminating those that are unwarranted, and

(2) cost-benefit discipline for new regulations.

A third goal, no less important than (1) and (2), should be a very high priority, which is to produce institutional mechanisms to promote issuance of regulations that would have high net benefits (including reductions in mortality and morbidity). Congress, courts, and the executive branch should take steps to combat benefit neglect.

Suggested Citation

Sunstein, Cass R., On Neglecting Regulatory Benefits (February 20, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3541782 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3541782

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

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Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

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