It’s Always a Good Time to Regulate Well!

Ezra Klein and Kevin Drum have an interesting back and forth about Michael Mandel’s idea that regulations should be somehow “counter-cyclical” which, in his formulation, basically amounts to saying they should be laxer during recessions.

The more I think about this, though, the more I think the insights here basically just amount to “it’s always a good idea to have sound public policy.” If you imagine some rule that’s really important to preventing cans of beans from giving people botulism, that rule doesn’t suddenly become less important in a recession. What’s more it’s hard to imagine a 12-month holiday on food safety rules for canned goods leading to a spike of job creation. It would mostly freak people out. Conversely, an unwise regulation like the rule in some parts of DC giving preference to franchised chain restaurants over non-franchised chain restaurants (or consider this) doesn’t actually become worse during a recession.

I think that when there are downturns, public policy questions just become more salient. Good micro policies are, however, always really excellent things to have. Nonetheless, I don’t think anyone really thinks the Italian labor market is holding up better than the American because of superior microeconomic policies.