Chairman Pertschuk’s lessons on regulation

Chairman Michael Pertschuk was one of the most qualified FTC leaders ever. Educated at Yale Law School, he clerked for a federal district judge, practiced at a firm, and then spent fifteen years on Capitol Hill. His Hill experience brought him great expertise in consumer protection, as he was chief counsel to the Senate Commerce Committee during the expansion of consumer rights in the 1970s.

Pertschuk led the FTC during its most controversial years. In his 1982 book, Revolt against Regulation, he gave a personal account of lessons learned from the newfound skepticism of government regulation.55 He offered consumer advocates seven lessons in consumer regulation. They should ask:

  • Is the rule consonant with market incentives to the maximum extent feasible?
  • Will the remedy work?
  • Will the chosen remedy minimize the cost burdens of compliance, consistent with achieving the objective?
  • Will the benefits flowing from the rule to consumer or to competition substantially exceed the costs?
  • Will the rule or remedy adversely affect competition?
  • Does the regulation preserve freedom of informed individual choice to the maximum extent consistent with consumer welfare?
  • To what extent is the problem appropriate for federal intervention and amendable to a centrally administered national standard?

Pertschuk’s book is an anomaly for Washington memoirs, which typically involve some trope about “reforming Washington,” with failures attributed to intractable “bureaucracies” and the like. Pertschuk wrestles with questions fundamental to whether consumer protection is effective, and declares that his experience taught him the (albeit limited) value of cost–benefit analysis

MICHAEL PERTSCHUK, REVOLT AGAINST REGULATION (1982).

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