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About the only thing less exciting than regulatory agencies is academics writing about regulatory agencies. Harvard political scientist Wilson set some students, both graduate and undergraduate, to work looking into how various agencies set their standards and do their business in order to figure out which side of the regulatory agency debate is closer to the truth; those who see them as hand-maidens tv the industries they regulate, or those who decry them as capitalism's enemies. Predictably, it's more complex than that. Among the agencies investigated are the Civil Aeronautics Board, the Federal Maritime Commission, state utilities regulators, the Federal Trade Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and three other federal groups. Each author presents a brief historical overview, and looks closely at particular instances of regulation in order to illuminate the ""politics"" of it; i.e., the regulation process is itself seen as the outcome of internal conflicts and powers. The model used to carry off this investigation is a crudely economic one; the people in regulatory agencies are seen as political maximizers who act to enhance their own career interests, whether these interests are seen to coincide with those of the agency or not. In other words, Wilson's epigones have shifted the focus from the politics of competing interests at large, to the political machinations of the regulators, who have their own interests. The regulators thereby become the big threats to freedom, because no one is watching the referee. What all this comes down to is a curiously backhanded attack on the motives of regulators and an indirect pitch for a freer market: at least out there everyone is obviously competing for wealth, pure and simple. The politics of bureaucratic organizations is not new to political scientists, or to anyone who's ever worked in one; but Wilson has clouded the issue by intimating that these bureaucracies are unique. Some of the internal evidence may hold up, but the scheme is facile and, in a practical sense, valueless.

Pub Date: June 13th, 1980
Publisher: Basic Books