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Cost-Benefit Analysis and the Structure of the Administrative State

Cost-Benefit Analysis and the Structure of the Administrative State

The Case of Financial Services

By Richard L. Revesz
February 22, 2016

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Filed under Academic Articles/Working Papers, Safety and Consumer Protection, Transparency

The viability and desirability of conducting cost-benefit analysis of financial regulation is a subject of intense academic debate. Opponents claim that such analysis is feasible for environmental regulation but not for financial regulation because of the difference in the benefits that require monetization in the respective areas. This article, which will be published in a forthcoming edition of the Yale Journal on Regulation, argues that the recent debate misses an important part of the problem. In large part, cost-benefit analysis of financial regulation cannot currently be performed successfully because of institutional shortcomings, not analytical difficulties. Compared to Executive Branch agencies, independent agencies, like the major financial regulatory agencies, lack the capacity to do cost-benefit analyses of acceptable quality.

Fortunately, there are good Executive Branch models that could be exported to the financial regulatory agencies. In particular, the Financial Stability Oversight Council could implement a robust coordinating role diffusing macroeconomic expertise, learning from the experience of the Interagency Working Group set up to estimate the damage of one ton of carbon dioxide emissions. Moreover, the President could extend to independent agencies his Executive Order vesting in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs the responsibility to review significant federal regulations. Though no President has yet taken this step, in part because of fears of a congressional backlash, the time might now be ripe to do so. And, the financial regulatory agencies could learn from the experience of the Environmental Protection Agency in building significant economic expertise to aid the preparation of cost-benefit analyses.

The article also considers the role of judicial review. It takes issue with the influential argument that OIRA review can serve as an alternative to judicial review, showing that such an outcome would be inconsistent with settled principles of administrative law. But OIRA review can lead to more deferential judicial review, by serving as a signal that reviewing courts are likely to find reassuring.