When thinking about regulation, it is helpful to have some regulatory principles. Here are my proposals:
- Keep it simple. Simple regulation is cost-effective regulation. Simple regulation minimizes both regulatory costs to the government and compliance costs to the regulated firms, costs eventually borne by consumers or taxpayers. Complicated regulation invites lawsuits and encourages efforts to avoid the regulation.
- Regulate the smallest possible number of firms. Regulation is a market distortion and tends to limit innovation. Because of the September 2008 collapse, some people are not convinced of the benefits of financial innovation. This is unfortunate. Financial innovation is, on net, positive. Consider the Farmer who hedges against bad weather by using futures or the airlines that hedge against higher gasoline costs. We need to encourage financial innovation.
- Preserve incentives. We’ve all encountered either government monopolies or government regulated monopolies. The DMV, the Post Office, and utilities come to mind. We’ve also seen the innovation that followed the elimination of the phone monopoly. Bad regulation provides perverse incentives. Good regulation maintains incentives for quality, service, and innovation.
- Maximize market feedback. Markets have built in incentives that are beneficial to society. Where possible, we should allow that feedback to do its magic. It is the cost-effective way to preserve incentives.
- Minimize moral-hazard problems. Moral-hazard issues result from free or under-priced insurance. It is currently pervasive, and it is our single largest source of unnecessary systematic risk. The too-big-too-fail concept in particular has resulted in excessive risk taking, with disastrous results. Similarly, FDIC insurance was under-priced, as evidenced by the FDIC accelerating the collection of future premiums, and the results are self-evident.
- Minimize political influence. Political influence in economic matters is counterproductive. It is clear to me that the vast majority of political types are trying to optimize something other than economic activity or efficiency. Whether the political objective is maximizing the likelihood of reelection, rewarding supporters, or simply greedy corruption, we need to avoid the results.
- Regulation is not protection. Regulators often become partners with the regulated. Sometimes this is because the regulator expects to be eventually employed by the regulated. The regulator may have been employed by the regulated, or may become friends with the regulated, or may be corrupt and accept bribes. In all cases, we are ill served when the regulator is protecting the regulated.
- Regulation should not be adversarial. The purpose of regulation is not to punish the regulated. We have a legal system to provide punishment when it is needed. Adversarial regulation will encourage evasion. The best approach is arms-length, fair, and firm.