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The evolutionary logic of the regulatory state

A great blog post on regulatory expansion, viewed through the microcosm of research ethics regulation:

From an evolutionary perspective, a research regulator is a life form with three very interesting characteristics. First, its numbers explode in response to catastrophic events regardless of how rare that event is. Second, it has few natural predators, so its expansion goes unchecked. Third, regulators multiply like bacteria: they spawn more regulations which require more regulators, so there is a rapid increase in population over time. And these three characteristics derive, I submit, from a basic human tendency to focus on emotionally-engaging events while ignoring their probability.

This model applies as easily to economic and social regulation as much as academic research: from Gary Banks’ hypothetical skipping rope regulation to the 2007 solarium controversy in Victoria. Regulations inspired by often tragic, but low probability circumstances cascade until we end up in a situation like this:

(For a brief discussion of the implications of regulatory and legislative expansion, see this Drum column “Micromanagement in the regulatory state“, or, for a longer discussion, my 2008 book.)


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