To Presume Much

Countless rhetorical and political battles have been fought over the merit or fault of particular federal regulations. Typically, industry will muster ex ante estimates of a rule’s costs during the rulemaking process, and the agencies and their public interest allies will respond with ex ante estimates of the public health and safety benefits of the action. This historical regulatory yin-and-yang often takes place without ex post analysis of previous regulation, along with an assessment of whether those regulations had the effects that advocates or critics claimed at the time they were adopted. Did the rule save the predicted number of lives? Was pollution abated and can we attribute that reduction to the regulation? Unfortunately, the number of truly retrospective regulatory reviews is utterly dwarfed by the number of ex ante regulatory fights. This needs to change, and thankfully policymakers and analysts are beginning to concede this.

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