A Shape Shifting Agency

Professor Gerald Berk described the FTC as a product of “creative syncretism.” Berk explaind: “those who built regulated competition were successful precisely because they reached across historical, institutional, and cultural boundaries to find resources, which they creatively recombined in experiments in business regulation, public administration, accounting and trade associations.”[1] The result was an entity with many different features that could be emphasized, deemphasized or recombined in order to address new problems in the economy: “institutions are better thought of as a bundle of resources…that can be accessed for problem solving through decomposition and recombination, than they are as order-making machines.”

Consistent with Berk’s description, Professor J. Howard Beales described the Commission as using the functions of different branches of governments. Until the 1970s, the FTC was a quasi-judicial body, with much of its resources devoted to administrative cases. The Commission then entered a legislative period, where it asserted rulemaking power and quickly generated many rules. Following the Regan revolution, the FTC shifted its resources away from judicial and legislative functions, to focusing upon its role as prosecutor.[2]

[1] Gerald Berk, Louis D. Brandeis and the Making of Regulated Competition, 1900-1932 (2009).

[2] J. Howard Beales, III, The FTC in the 1980s, in Marketing and Advertising Regulation: The Federal Trade Commission in the 1990s (Patrick E. Murphy and William L. Wilkie, eds. (1990).