The Costs and Benefits of Regulation: Implications for Developing Countries

39 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2016

See all articles by J. Luis Guasch

J. Luis Guasch

World Bank - Finance, Private Sector and Infrastructure Sector (LCSFP)

Robert W. Hahn

University of Oxford, Smith School; Georgetown University

Date Written: March 1997


This paper examines the economic impact of regulation in industrial and developing countries. It argues that economic analysis can play an important role in restructuring regulated industries and developing more effective regulations, and in reducing politically driven regulation and capture.

The past two decades have seen an unparalleled rise in new health, safety, and environmental regulations in industrial countries. At the same time, in some countries there has been substantial economic deregulation of several industries (including airlines, railroads, trucking, energy, telecommunications, and financialmarkets).

Developing countries are engaged in deregulating some sectors of the economy and devising new regulatory frameworks for others. After reviewing the literature, Guasch and Hahn provide an overview of the costs and benefits of regulation throughout the world, highlight the potential gains from reform of regulation and deregulation in both industrial and developing countries, draw lessons from experience with government regulation, and suggest how to improve regulation in developing countries.

They find that it is possible to explore systematically the costs and benefits of regulatory activities using standard economic analysis. They conclude that regulation - especially regulation aimed at controlling prices and entry into markets that would otherwise be workably competitive - can limit growth and significantly reduce economic welfare.

Although unnecessary process regulation can hurt the economy, social regulations may significantly benefit the average consumer. But some regulations do not meet goals effectively and may sometimes reduce living standards.

Developing countries can consider several regulatory policies, tools, and frameworks to improve their approach to regulation. What they choose will depend on available administrative expertise and resources, as well as political constraints and economic impacts. Generally, local and national capabilities for evaluating regulation need to be improved.

Regulation is not generally undesirable, but it often has undesirable economic consequences, which result in part from political forces to redistribute wealth. These forces need can be mitigated by more sharply evaluating the consequences and tradeoffs of proposed regulations.

This paper - a joint product of the Office of the Chief Economist and Senior Vice President, Development Economics and the Advisory Group, Latin America and the Caribbean Technical Department - was produced as a background paper for World Development Report 1997 on the role of the state in a changing world.

Suggested Citation

Guasch, José Luis and Hahn, Robert W., The Costs and Benefits of Regulation: Implications for Developing Countries (March 1997). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 1773. Available at SSRN:

José Luis Guasch (Contact Author)

World Bank - Finance, Private Sector and Infrastructure Sector (LCSFP) ( email )

1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433
United States
202 473 8606 (Phone)
202 522 2106 (Fax)

Robert W. Hahn

University of Oxford, Smith School ( email )

United Kingdom

Georgetown University

Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy
Washington, DC 20057
United States

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