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Regulation is the process of the promulgation, monitoring, and enforcement of rules, established by primary and/or delegated legislation, and the resulting written instrument containing rules having the force of law. Regulation creates, limits, or constrains a right, creates or limits a duty, or allocates a responsibility.


  • The general rule, at least, is that while property may be regulated to a certain extent, if regulation goes too far it will be recognized as a taking.
  • It is hardly lack of due process for the Government to regulate that which it subsidizes.
  • Although the functions of a regulatory commission are fairly straightforward in theory, in practice its task is far more complex and, in some respects, impossible. Moreover, the political climate in which regulatory commissions operate often leads to policies and results directly the opposite of what was expected by those who created such commissions.
    Ideally, a regulatory commission would set prices where they would have been if there were a competitive marketplace. In practice, there is no way to know what those prices would be. Only the actual functioning of a market itself could reveal such prices, with the less efficient firms being eliminated by bankruptcy and only the most efficient surviving, with their lower prices now being the market prices. No outside observers can know what the most efficient ways of operating a given firm or industry are. Indeed, many managements within an industry discover the hard way that what they thought was the most efficient way to do things was not efficient enough to meet the competition, and end up losing customers as a result. The most that a regulatory agency can do is accept what appear to be reasonable production costs and allow the monopoly to make what seems to be a reasonable profit over and above such costs.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics (2010), Ch. 7. Big Business and Government
  • The economic complexities involved when regulatory agencies set prices are compounded by political complexities. Regulatory agencies are often set up after some political crusaders have successfully launched investigations or publicity campaigns that convince the authorities to establish a permanent commission to oversee and control a monopoly or some group of firms few enough in number to be a threat to behave in collusion as if they were one monopoly. However, after a commission has been set up and its powers established, crusaders and the media tend to lose interest over the years and turn their attention to other things. Meanwhile, the firms being regulated continue to take a keen interest in the activities of the commission and to lobby the government for favorable regulations and favorable appointments of individuals to these commissions.
    The net result of these asymmetrical outside interests on these agencies is that commissions set up to keep a given firm or industry within bounds, for the benefit of the consumers, often metamorphose into agencies seeking to protect the existing regulated firms from threats arising from new firms with new technology or new organizational methods.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics (2010), Ch. 7. Big Business and Government
  • With anti-trust laws, as with regulatory commissions, a sharp distinction must be made between their original rationales and what they actually do. The basic rationale for anti-trust laws is to prevent monopoly and other conditions which allow prices to rise above where they would be in a free and competitive marketplace. In practice, most of the famous anti-trust cases in the United States have involved some business that charged lower prices than its competitors. Often it has been complaints from these competitors which caused the government to act.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics (2010), Ch. 7. Big Business and Government
  • Will one of you gentlemen tell me in what civilized country of the earth there are important government boards of control on which private interests are represented? Which of you gentlemen thinks the railroads should select members of the Interstate Commerce Commission?
    • Attributed to Woodrow Wilson, at a meeting of bankers and the president shortly before he asked Congress to enact legislation creating a Federal Reserve System; reported in Carter Glass, An Adventure in Constructive Finance (1927, reprinted 1975), chapter 7, p. 116. This appears to be the origin of what is frequently quoted as: "You don't put robbers to work in a bank".

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