Abstract: The Regulation of Muddling Through: Debating the Holtwood Dam, 1939-1954

Christopher Jones


Between 1939 and 1954, the Holtwood Dam on the Susquehanna River was at the heart of a series of new regulatory efforts. In response to perceived abuses by electric utilities in the 1920s and the reform agenda of the New Deal in the 1930s, state and federal regulatory bodies attempted to implement several new regulations. This paper tracks these new regulations and the responses of electric utilities to the new world in which they found themselves. Studies of regulation have often treated cases like this as simple expressions of raw power, ideology, and interest group politics. I argue in this paper for an alternate interpretation. Drawing on Charles Lindblom's notion of "the science of muddling through," I suggest that we think of this regulatory history as a contingent and imperfect attempt by various actors to implement their visions of what constituted a good society. "The regulation of muddling through," I argue, offers new perspectives for understanding regulation then and now.