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Reforming Risk Regulation

Abstract

A commonly observed characteristic of risk regulation is the absence of coherent prioritization of risk and inconsistencies in the stringency of controls on risks that are regulated. This article examines the roots of this problem in the way both citizens and their elected representatives deal with uncertainties associated with catastrophic risks, why elected politicians respond to this problem by constructing regulatory institutions that are prone to inconsistency, and whether various proposals to reform the regulatory process would be likely to improve its performance. The main conclusions are that most reform proposals are strongly inconsistent with democratic responsiveness, which is the most important principle that elected officials use in designing programs, and that the only plausible means for making regulatory policy more coherent is to increase the resources of regulatory agencies so as to give them greater control over the public agenda in risk policy.

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