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June 11, 2012


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Pamela Tom

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Role Reversal: New Book by UC Berkeley Prof. David Vogel Illustrates How the U.S. Lost Its Lead in Risk Regulation to Europe


Air pollution, climate change, food additives, pesticides, cosmetic safety, and electronic product hazards all pose global consumer and environmental risks, but the regulatory controls to manage them vary by country and by region. In recent decades, Europe has taken the lead over the US in comprehensively managing such risks, according to a new book by Professor David Vogel.


In The Politics of Precaution: Regulating Health, Safety, and Environmental Risks in Europe and the United States(Princeton University Press 2012), Vogel argues that there has been an overall shift towards greater regulation to manage risk in Europe than in the United States in the last five decades. Vogel, who holds the Solomon P. Lee Chair in Business Ethics at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, examined case studies and risk regulation over this period and found regulations–once more stringent in America–have become less comprehensive and innovative than those in Europe since that time.


"I think two big factors explain this shift in global regulatory leadership. The first is the growth in the regulatory role of the European Union. In order to increase public support for its single market program, the EU has been highly responsive to public and political pressures, which have demanded higher levels of consumer and environmental protection," says Vogel. "In the United States, a key factor has been the decline in partisan cooperation on regulatory policy making. Since the early 1990s, regulatory politics in Washington have become highly polarized, with Republicans increasingly opposed to enacting stronger regulations. The result has been two decades of policy gridlock. Because the EU’s market is not larger than that of the U.S. and its regulations more stringent, other countries are now following the regulatory lead of the EU rather than the U.S."


In his book, Vogel writes about how American policymakers face a climate of critics who claim the U.S. is over-regulated. He found that while the extent of partisan gridlock is frustrating to both Democrats/liberals who would like to make many regulations stronger, and to Republicans/conservatives who would like to make them weaker, poll data suggests that many Americans are not very dissatisfied with the regulatory status quo. Compared to the three decades before 1990, there is a notable lack of strong public support for strengthening many health, safety, and environment standards, according to Vogel. At the same time, he says there is also little public support for Republican and business efforts to weaken them. "California is a notable exception. The state has adopted so many EU regulations that it could almost qualify as the 29th member state of the EU," says Vogel.