What is the most important thing that regulators must learn from the pandemic?
Outcomes are what matters, not processes. And to achieve outcomes, you need to keep focusing on assessing, understanding, detecting risks. You need flexibility, and data. But this a lesson even more for those who make the rules “above” regulators, which often constrain the latter rather than empower them.
Are there ways to achieve a suitable degree of regulatory discretion without increasing corruption risk? Why would this be helpful?
The short answer is: yes. Why would it be helpful, first? Because optimal rules don’t exist: rules cannot predict everything. If you make them too rigid and precise and narrow, you will end up with bureaucracy, and inability to adapt and respond to events.
If you make them too loose, they will be useless. You need discretion, definitely.
How to limit corruption? First, regulators need to adopt and publish clear guidelines on how they exercise discretion, so that there can be accountability and review. Second, there needs to be transparency, and results management, accountability for results. Third, of course, properly professional regulators, with careers that attract good people, ethical internal structures and management. This is vital.
Finally, there is generally in my experience far more corruption in countries with very rigid rules and very limited discretion…
What is your current favourite book or podcast and why?
I don’t listen to podcasts, only music. Bookwise, I enjoyed a lot the “Interdependency” series by John Scalzi and the “Lady Astronaut” series by Mary Robinette Kowal, of which I read the last volumes a couple months ago – I find science fiction always both refreshes my brain through evasion, and has very interesting insights into society, technology, economics etc. Apart from this, I am an avid Twitter user – this is where I learn stuff, for instance the “airborne Covid” stuff which right now is my most exciting area of work and leads to the question of whether and how we could have a new regulatory “field”, (indoor) air safety.
Will the pandemic speed up the pace of regulatory change in some countries and what will drive the change, if you feel it will happen?
Maybe! I sure hope so. Particularly, I wish it would help regulators and most importantly politicians who make the laws that regulators work within to realize the importance of understanding and managing risks, rather than focusing on what is easy to control and measure. If change does not happen, we will continue to flail around with regulatory measures that deliver no results but have significant costs.
Florentin Blanc is a Senior Policy Analyst at OECD.
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