Chapter | Regulatory Breakdown: The Crisis of Confidence in U.S. Regulation | 2012

Citizens' Perceptions and the Disconnect Between Economics and Regulatory Policy

by Jonathan Baron, William T. McEnroe and Christopher Poliquin

Abstract

Economic theory is clear about the advantages and disadvantages of various ways of regulating negative externalities, such as command and control, cap and trade, taxation, subsidies, and tort law. Yet public policy rarely follows the recommendations that follow from the theory. For example, the standard recommendations for reducing CO2 emissions involve carbon taxes or some form of cap and trade, but discussions of "realistic" ways to reduce emissions in the U.S. have involved mileage standards, command and control regulation of power plants, and tax subsidies for energy efficiency. In democracies such as the U.S., policies must have at least some public support. Citizens' limited understanding of the economics of regulation can lead to lack of support for optimal policies. In studies on the World Wide Web, we document some failures, and some successes, of ordinary citizens to think through the economics of alternative policies. Among other issues, we examine understanding of the secondary effects of taxation vs. subsidies, and understanding of the role of limited information (on the part of polluters, or governments) in the choice between command-and-control regulation and tort law or taxation.

Keywords: regulation; Government and Politics; decision making; United States;

Citation:

Baron, Jonathan, William T. McEnroe, and Christopher Poliquin. "Citizens' Perceptions and the Disconnect Between Economics and Regulatory Policy." In Regulatory Breakdown: The Crisis of Confidence in U.S. Regulation, edited by Cary Coglianese. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.