Michael Powell Provides Support for the Capture Theory of Regulatory Agencies

 

The following brief story would seem highly compatible with the "Capture Theory of Regulatory Agencies" that is associated with the names of economist George Stigler, and historian Gabriel Kolko.  That theory suggests that regulatory agencies are frequently captured by the industries that they are intended to regulate.

One kind of evidence for the theory is that members of regulatory agency boards often are recruited from the industry, and often return to working for the industry after their terms are over.

 

The efforts of federal regulators to curtail cronyism on corporate boards have led to some odd outcomes. The case of Michael K. Powell, a new director of Cisco Systems, is a prime example. 

Mr. Powell, the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, happens to be a son of Colin Powell, the former secretary of state. Cisco happens to have paid the senior Mr. Powell more than $100,000 to deliver two speeches in 2005.

Under guidelines established by the Nasdaq stock market, that connection disqualifies the younger Mr. Powell as an independent director, so he cannot sit on the company’s audit, compensation or governance committees. But by the same definition, Richard M. Kovacevich, the chairman of Wells Fargo, is an independent director of Cisco, even though his company has promised to lend Cisco $120 million.

The difference is that Cisco’s line of credit is deemed too small a part of Wells Fargo’s overall business to present a conflict of interest, while the payments to the senior Mr. Powell exceeded the allowable annual limit of $100,000 to any family member of an independent director.

 

Source of story: 

PATRICK McGEEHAN.  "$100,000? Too High. $120 Million? Fine."  The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., September 30, 2007):  2.

 

The key Kolko book is: 

Kolko, Gabriel. Railroads and Regulation, 1877-1916.  W. W. Norton & Company, 1970.

 

Pulling Teeth Slowly

 

   Source of book image:  http://mitpress.mit.edu/images/products/books/0262113023-f30.jpg

 

Many years ago, I read János Kornai’s The Road to the Free Market, which gave Kornai’s advice on how Eastern Europe could best make the transition from communism to the free market.  What I remember most from the book, is his discussion of whether it is more humane for the transition to be quick or gradual.  He answers the question by asking another:  if you need to have a tooth pulled, is it more humane for it to be pulled quickly or gradually?

 

(p. B15) . . .,  Mr. Kornai’s books and lectures in Europe, North America and Asia established him as one of the leading scholars of socialist economics and an expert on the difficult transitions that many countries face when they move from socialism to a more democratic and capitalist system.   . . .

At one point in 1974, under the more relaxed rule of János Kádár, when Hungary was the "most cheerful barrack in the camp," Mr. Kornai and his wife decided to build their own home. Over the course of several months, they personally confronted the corruption, endemic shortages and shoddy construction materials that were so common in Eastern Europe. A year later, on a trip to India, Mr. Kornai was faced by idealistic young Maoists whose concern for the desperately poor reinforced their support for socialism. Mr. Kornai responded to them by arguing, as he puts it here, that "rationing systems that spread misery equally may assuage feelings of injustice for a while, but they will not solve anything."

 

For the full review, see:

JOSHUA RUBENSTEIN.  "BOOKS; Critic Behind the Curtain."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., January 30, 2007):  B15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

 

The book reviewed, is: 

János Kornai.  By Force of Thought.  (MIT Press, 461 pages, $40)

 

The earlier book by Kornai, that I read and liked, is:

Kornai, Janos. The Road to a Free Economy: Shifting from a Socialist System, the Example of Hungary. New York: W.W. Norton, 1990.