THE IRONY OF REGULATORY REFORM by Robert Britt Horwitz

THE IRONY OF REGULATORY REFORM

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Ironies abound in this lucid critique of a reform movement that has succeeded mainly in confounding its oddly coupled instigators. With a merciful minimum of academic jargon, Horwitz (Communications/Univ. of Cal., San Diego) probes the many-splendored realities of deregulation. A central irony of the phenomenon, he notes, is that so-called social agencies like the EPA, which had been priority targets of tough-talking Reaganites, are stronger than ever. In the meantime, such economic instrumentalities as the FAA, FCC, and ICC (first undermined during the Carter Administration) are all but out of business--to the great distress of affected industries. The author touches on a number of fields--air transport, banking, trucking, et al.--but he focuses on broadcasting and telecommunications. The coalition of private-enterprise and public-interest groups that forced the issue of deregulation, Horwitz points out, had divergent concerns--i.e., efficiency and equity, respectively. As a practical matter, he concludes, neither party got quite what it bargained for. For example, the breakup of AT&T and deregulation of common-carrier communications companies have resulted in higher rates and poorer service for telephone users in general and low-income households in particular. At the same time, there's no sign of the technological advances that were supposed to yield economy-wide gains in productivity as well as those substantive cost savings. Equally dubious, in Horwitz's opinion, are the benefits of laissez-faire in commercial broadcasting. Among other undesirable outcomes, he fears concentration of TV/radio station ownership could deny dissidents access to the marketplace of ideas and thus curb the debate needed to sustain an open, democratic society. The good news, Horwitz speculates, is that the instability and abuses engendered by government's retreat from regulation will sooner or later precipitate a constructive reaction. A cogent analysis of the mischief that can occur when ideologues join forces to apply political solutions to socioeconomic problems. Well worth the obviously unregulated price for anyone interested in how the law of unintended consequences works in the real world.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press