Recalibrating risk: Crises, learning, and regulatory change
It is often observed that crisis events spur new regulation. An extensive literature focuses on the role of disasters, tragedies, scandals, shocks, and other untoward events in stimulating regulatory responses (Baumgartner and Jones 1993; Percival 1998; Kuran and Sunstein 1999; Birkland 2006; Repetto 2006; Wiener and Richman 2010; Wuthnow 2010). We have highlighted numerous examples of arguably crisis-driven regulation in the introductory chapter (Balleisen et al., this volume) and in the several case study chapters in this book. The notion that crises spur regulation has become a “commonplace assertion,” and yet one that is “so widely held … that it remains virtually unexamined in empirical and historical analyses” (Carpenter and Sin 2007, 149). Observing this relationship does not itself explain what causal mechanisms may be driving it (Carpenter and Sin 2007, 154). And the relationship does not always hold (Kahn 2007). We do not claim that all crises spur regulatory change, nor that all regulatory changes arise from crises. Some crisis events do not produce significant regulatory change – perhaps including mass shootings in the United States, and Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Some regulatory changes occur without preceding crisis events – such as the Acid Rain Program of the 1990 Clean Air Act. This volume has sought to enrich the empirical understanding of how the process of crisis stimulus and regulatory response unfolds. Our main question has been not whether, but rather how, regulatory systems change in response to crises. Going beyond the generic assertion that crises spur regulation, we have explored diverse ways in which regulatory change may play out: how different types of regulatory responses may follow from different kinds of crises. In this volume, we have studied a set of cases in which some regulatory change typically did follow a crisis event, in order to understand how that process led to different types of regulatory changes in different contexts. The case studies in this volume – focusing on oil spills, nuclear power accidents, and financial crashes, with regulatory responses in the United States, Europe, and Japan – illustrate a wide array of crises, institutions, actors, countries, time periods, and policy changes.