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I'm reviewing Adam Smith and Bruce Yandle's Bootleggers and Baptists for the Independent Review. It's a powerful explanatory framework that helps us understand why we get resource-wasting public policies. Here are a few resources on the idea:
1. Bruce Yandle's original article.
2. Bruce Yandle on EconTalk.
3. The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics entry on Regulation.
4. A LearnLiberty video in which Yandle explains "Bootleggers and Baptists" (disclosure: I've been paid to be in LearnLiberty videos; they don't pay me to blog about them).
I'm not persuaded that the B&B coalition is the best explanation of the phenomenon of why sale rather than consumption of alcohol is the restricted activity. Maybe it's enforcement costs. Or new v old pollution sources. Maybe it's that there is no vested interest to oppose the "new source" rule. A la Mancur Olsen, not all coalitions against the public interest are equally easy to form.
I think that specific example about environmental protection laws, while certainly correct where there is a different standard for new and existing players really downplays the industrialists' financial impact on the politicians.
Environmental groups and organisations have and spend far less than industrial and corporate interests on lobbying.
It's certainly arguable environmental issues come from a more democratic mandate, generally people want to see less pollution, but there isn't much money in it.
The quite crazy nature of party and campaign financing in the US particularly since Citizen's United would seem to make this more problematic of an issue.