by David Arkush
The Washington Post reports today that the chief of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and her predecessor have taken dozens of trips, totaling nearly $60,000, paid by the manufacturers they regulate. The article is detailed and worth reading.
In light of this most recent scandal in the CPSC, which must be vying for the title of most thoroughly captured regulatory agency, I want to take a moment to introduce you to another kind of capture. Over at the Situationist---if you don't read it, you should!---Jon Hanson is discussing his theory of deep capture. Hanson's work should be highly interesting to consumer lawyers, policy makers, and academics.
I won't say too much because Hanson is in the process of writing multiple blog posts on this himself. But I should provide at least a quick-and-dirty explanation of the theory. Here goes: We are influenced far more than we realize by the situations in which we find ourselves. (The proverbial example where we actually see the situation is the gun to the head, but numerous less visible factors influence us as well.) If you influence someone's situation, you influence his or her behavior. In this sense, the situation is power.
As a result, business corporations must compete to shape people's situations. They don't have to know how they do it---in fact, they don't even have to do it intentionally---but in a competitive market, businesses that fail to do so will lose out to those that succeed. Hanson and co-author David Yosifon have termed this "power economics." Take this to its logical conclusion: Business corporations have an incentive to try to influence, or capture, as much as possible about our situations. Not just CPSC regulations, but every aspect of our knowledge and culture. And they have an incentive to promote a culture that ignores these influences, instead attributing as much behavior as possible to individual choice and individual responsibility. This is "deep capture." Check out Hanson's first post on it.