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Does society's attitude toward regulations matter?

June 10, 2010 - Mike Maneval
An article by James Surowiecki at the New Yorker's website opens with an overview of the Minerals Management Service, the government agency tasked with oversight of offshore drilling. Surowiecki details how the agency rolled over for the industries it was meant to police and accepting gifts from executives. 
Then, the New Yorker finds similar trends throughout recent history. "It’s hard to think of a recent disaster in the business world that wasn’t abetted by inept regulation," Surowiecki writes, citing lax enforcement in coal mines that proved deadly and the failures of the Securities and Exchange Commission and other financial regulators to recognize recklessness.
A number of factors, according to the article, contribute to the ineffectual regulatory climate the U.S. is in. Surowiecki notes legislators were tight-fisted with SEC funding in 2006 and 2007. Many who work in regulatory capacities are political appointees and prone to turnover and not members of the more stable civil service.
But underlying it all, Surowiecki suggests, how well regulations work stems from how society views regulations in the first place. Industries are more likely to comply and regulatory agencies are more likely to perform if neither harbors the apprehension that oversight is meddlesome and burdensome.


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