CAFE and the Tension Between Optimization and Competition in Rulemaking

Regulation magazine
by Brian Mannix, Research Professor
December 14, 2015

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Choosing regulatory options that maximize net benefits is a sound principle, but it needs to be applied with an appropriate measure of humility. Regulators may be tempted to think that they can use benefit-cost analysis to determine what is “best” for the economy, and then simply mandate it. The collateral damage to competition and innovation can easily turn an otherwise well-intentioned rule into an economic disaster. Regulatory specification of a particular technology can be especially damaging when the technology is proprietary, because then the law may simultaneously lock out competitors and lock in customers.