Abstract: Regulatory Reform Reconsidered: Business, Inflation, and the Emergence of Anti-Statist State Building in the 1970s

Erik Erlandson


Historians have long assumed that the 1970s and 1980s began a ‘neoliberal turn’ in American politics that resulted in the deconstruction of government regulation and the elevation of free market policy prescriptions. This paper revises that understanding. It does so by emphasizing the theme of regulatory oversight; an important but understudied component of regulatory reform that emerged in 1974 and proved influential throughout the late twentieth century. The paper begins with the discovery that new health, safety, and environmental regulations were exacerbating the problem of rising inflation but could not be repealed wholesale. This created the need for new policy structures that could evaluate and reshape expensive agency rulemakings. The paper reveals not government programs that were swept away in a neoliberal riptide, but the array of new bureaucratic requirements that were proposed for a burdensome regulatory state.