Is regulation a hopeless cause? Many thoughtful observers spend a lot of time enumerating all of the reasons why it is doomed to fail. The entire field of public choice, with impeccable logic, posits the likely corruption of every bureaucrat. And if corruption cannot explain the failure of regulation, the atrophy that comes from lack of competition — there is just one government, after all, and it does not have a profit motive — may be just as rich a vein to mine. It could also be that the legal system itself, with its myriad complexities, checks, and procedural requirements, may ossify to the point of strangulation whatever is left of the governance project that capture and incompetence have not already disposed of.
And yet governance, against all these odds, thrives everywhere that markets and people thrive. It is something of a puzzle, really, given all of the excellent reasons why regulation should be nothing more than zero-sum cupidity. Is there some other reason to trust governance, despite the ease with which regulators may be captured by rent-seekers, dulled by monopolization, and stayed by process?
Daniel Carpenter thinks so. His history of the pharmaceutical arm of the Food and Drug Administration ("FDA"), Reputation and Power: Organizational Image and Pharmaceutical Regulation at the FDA, concerns a classic regulatory enterprise — the government's effort to ensure that its citizens consume safe and effective drugs — that, he argues, went well for decades. His definitive account blends political science theory with a granular retelling of the challenges and achievements of American pharmaceutical regulation. It is meant to be the ur-book on the subject, a reference work that obviates the need for more digging by other scholars into the FDA's pharmaceutical history.