Social movements and regulatory agencies: Toward a more adequate—and less pessimistic—Theory of “clientele capture”
Many regulatory agencies were established during the Progressive Era and the New Deal, in part out of faith in their capacity to regulate industry in an apolitical and “scientific” fashion. A number of observers—most notably Marver Bernstein—have noted that many regulatory agencies eventually become “captured” by the very interests they are supposedly regulating. This paper first examines the notion of “clientele capture,” focusing in particular on the development of an operational classification of regulatory policies. It then builds upon Bernstein's suggestion that the cycle of decay commences with the demise of the constituency supporting regulation. Through case studies an effort is made to explore (1) the conditions under which a regulatory agency is likely to actively attempt to develop a supportive constituency and (2) the conditions under which a constituency supportive of aggressive regulation is able to effectively monitor regulatory policy (and to be instrumental in preventing slippage) after the decline in public concern with the issue.
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