What is regulation?
This site is concerned with government actions to control behaviors and practices through measures including subsidies, taxes, penalties, restrictions, prohibitions, and licensing. Not included are laws against acts that are bad in themselves—such as murder, slander, or theft—or, in other words, against the laws of reason or human nature.
We assume that the only legitimate objective for regulation is the utopian ambition of improving general welfare over the long term relative to what it would have been without the regulation. Operationally, we define that as “long-term life satisfaction” following Frey’s (2010) Happiness: A Revolution in Economics. For a recent analysis of the evidence on the relationship between regulation and life satisfaction, see Pitlik et al. (2015).
To summarize experimental evidence on the effect of regulations on general welfare, and to provide tools for citizens, commentators, journalists, and political leaders to assess and predict the effects of regulations, in order that they may:
- Prevent harmful new regulations
- Eliminate or modify harmful existing regulations
- Propose only evidence-based regulations
Primary contribution of this site
This site maintains that regulations should be expected to meet the the same objective scientific standard as we would expect to be applied to a proposed medical treatment. The standard is the experimental testing of alternative reasonable hypotheses together with full disclosure.
In the case of public policy, laissez-faire is one alternative that should always be considered and—given the weight of evidence on its superior performance, and a presumption in favour of freedom—should always be given the benefit of any doubt. Advocacy research—which avoids proper consideration of alternatives—violates objectivity and is the opposite of the scientific method.
The founders of this site, Professor J. Scott Armstrong (Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania) and Dr. Kesten C. Green (University of South Australia Business School), challenge researchers to identify, using experimental evidence, conditions under which the Iron Law does not hold. In other words, to show that a regulation increases general welfare.
Studies proposed as providing evidence must:
- Use laboratory, field, natural, or quasi-experiments to compare effects of alternative policies, which includes doing nothing
- Describe the conditions to which the findings apply
- Develop an experiment to test existing or new regulations.
For an example of such a study, see Green and Armstrong’s (2012) Effects of Mandatory Disclaimers. On the need for evidence, see Green and Armstrong’s (2015) Australian Senate Economics References Committee Inquiry submission, Regulating choice: The need for evidence.
Standards for this site
We invite all relevant contributions. Our overriding standards are objectivity and full disclosure of experimental evidence along with interpretations as to what the evidence says, based on logic. We require:
- Civil discourse
- No ad hominem arguments
- Signed contributions with contact information
- Contributions to be of one of two types:
- Errors of fact
- Information about experimental studies with tests of alternative approaches to regulation.
With respect to our contributions, we endeavour to check all sources with the authors and ask them to verify that we have correctly summarized their findings (for evidence on why, see Wright and Armstrong 2008).