Used a gas can recently? If not, prepare for a surprise—they’ve become harder to use due to government-mandated design changes aimed at reducing air pollution. Faced with persistent environmental and other challenges, government regulators have increasingly turned to similar regulations on consumer products. But these consumer-facing regulations create new policy and political problems for regulators, different from those associated with traditional industry-facing regulation. This paper looks in depth at three case studies of consumer-facing regulation: emissions controls on gas cans, efficiency standards for light bulbs, and European vehicle fuel economy standards. In each case, there is strong evidence for widespread evasion of the regulations by consumers and by consumers and producers working together. This evasion may substantially undercut the targeted benefits of the regulations. Moreover, consumer dissatisfaction with the regulations appears common, perhaps indicating underappreciated costs to consumers and playing in to anti-regulatory narratives. Building on these case studies, this paper explores options available to regulators for reducing incentives and opportunities to evade consumer-facing regulation and for anticipating or reducing consumer dissatisfaction. Such options include externality pricing, stricter (and smarter) enforcement, careful selection of regulatory targets, modifications to exante cost-benefit analysis, and, in some cases, eschewing regulation entirely in favor of providing information or other less-intrusive policies.
Nathan Richardson, Social License to Regulate: Consumer-Producer Collusion and Related Policy Risks for Consumer-Facing Regulation, 86 U. Cin. L. REV. 153 (2018).