Deregulation, Reagan-Style

History can help explain the politics of regulation, but only if we first understand that there are different kinds of regulation out there. For example, one might usefully—if imperfectly—distinguish economic regulation—that is, the intensive regulation of specific industries in ways that often manage the supply or price of certain goods or both—from social regulation—that is, the protection of the public from general social harms, such as pollution or unsafe workplaces. These two kinds of regulation have different histories in the United States. Much of the country’s economic regulation originated in the 1930s, as part of the New Deal response to the Great Depression. Most social regulation originated later on, especially in the early 1970s, in response to flourishing environmentalist and consumer-protection movements. And they have been attacked with different levels of intensity by administrations that have made a political commitment to…

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