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Regulatory Capture Definition With Examples


Regulatory capture is a theory associated with economics and politics, referring to a situation where a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of the industry or sector it is supposed to be regulating. This can occur when the regulator becomes sympathetic or unduly influenced by the sector it oversees, leading to decisions that benefit the industry’s interests over the public good. Examples include politicians passing legislations favorable to large corporations who funded their campaigns, or regulatory bodies overlooking harmful practices due to close ties with the industry.


The phonetics for your keyword are as follows:Regulatory: /ˈrɛgjʊləˌtɔri/Capture: /kæp.tʃɚ/Definition: /ˌdɛfɪˈnɪʃən/With: /wɪð/Examples: /ɪgˈzæmpəlz/

Key Takeaways

  1. Definition: Regulatory Capture is a theory associated with economics and politics, stating that industries or economic sectors can ‘capture’ or influence public regulatory agencies or bodies which have been established to regulate them. This could lead to these agencies making decisions that favor the sectors they are supposed to regulate instead of making decisions in the public interest.
  2. Potential Consequences: This capture can cause serious issues such as favoritism, corruption and unfair practices. When ‘captured’ , the regulatory agency may work to the advantage of the industry or sector, leading to biased and unfair decisions. This compromises the agency’s objectivity and public accountability, which can potentially harm customers and society in different ways.
  3. Examples: One example of regulatory capture is the Enron Scandal (2001). Here, Enron was able to influence the energy market regulation board (FERC) through personal connections and massive campaign contributions. Rather than safeguarding the consumers’ rights, the regulators favoured Enron, contributing to one of the largest bankruptcy cases in American history. Another example is the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, which was partly blamed on regulatory capture as financial institutions had too much influence over their regulatory bodies.


Regulatory capture is an important concept in business/finance as it identifies a scenario where a regulatory agency, formed to act in the public’s interest, eventually acts in favor of the industries it is supposed to regulate. This fundamental shift can have substantial economic implications, potentially leading to market inefficiencies, economic disadvantages, unethical practices, and adverse effects for consumers. It is critical to understand and acknowledge this term’s significance to prevent such malpractices and consequences. For instance, recognizing instances of regulatory capture can help work towards legislative changes aiming to preserve fair competition and consumer rights. Therefore, understanding regulatory capture is essential in maintaining the balance between the efficient functioning of industries and safeguarding public interest.


Regulatory capture refers to a theory associated with the field of economics which argues that public-serving regulatory bodies can be prone to manipulation or ‘capture’ by the industries they are supposed to supervise. This is generally asserted to happen when a regulatory agency formed to act in the public interest eventually acts in ways that benefit the interests of the sector it’s supposed to regulate, rather than the public they are intended to protect. Regulatory capture is used to illustrate the potential for government regulatory agencies to fall under the influence of the entities they regulate, off-setting their original purpose of ensuring accountability and transparency.The purpose of highlighting regulatory capture is to identify and understand situations where a symbiotic relationship may develop between regulatory bodies and their subjects, potentially threatening the welfare of the broader public. It brings to light issues regarding consumer protection, market efficiency and the overall integrity of regulatory measures. For instance, if a pharmaceutical regulatory body becomes ‘captured’ by the pharmaceutical industry it monitors, the agency might favor the interests of industry over those of the general public, potentially compromising safety regulations. Hence, regulatory capture acts as a lens through which the imbalance of power can be assessed within the dynamic of governmental regulation processes.


1. Telecommunications Industry: In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates the telecommunications industry. However, over the years, there have been claims of regulatory capture. For instance, when the FCC has been accused of favoring the interests of large telecom corporations over those of the general public. An example of this could be seen with the net neutrality debate, where telecom companies lobbied to control data speeds for different sites, potentially to their benefit and to the potential detriment of consumers and smaller businesses.2. Financial Industry: The 2008 financial crisis in the United States serves as an illustration of regulatory capture in the financial industry. Critics argue that leading up to the crisis, regulatory bodies like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Federal Reserve became too close to the large financial institutions they were supposed to be regulating, leading to lax oversight and regulations that allowed those institutions to engage in risky practices that contributed to the crisis.3. Oil and Gas Industry: The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 shed light on possible regulatory capture within the oil and gas industry. The Minerals Management Service (MMS), the agency responsible for regulating offshore drilling, was found to have a number of flaws in oversight. In some cases, MMS inspectors had accepted gifts from oil companies and allowed oil company personnel to fill out inspection forms. These relationships called into question the effectiveness and integrity of the MMS and demonstrated potential regulatory capture.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is the definition of Regulatory Capture?

Regulatory Capture is a theory associated with economics which suggests that industries or sectors can influence or manipulate government regulatory agencies or authorities that are supposed to supervise and regulate them. This is usually achieved through lobbying, funding or other means.

Can you provide an example of Regulatory Capture?

A classic example of regulatory capture is the financial crisis of 2008. Many believe that the banks were able to engage in risky behavior, leading to the crisis because the regulatory authorities were influenced by the same banks and failed to properly regulate their activities.

How does Regulatory Capture impact the general public?

Regulatory Capture can often lead to public harm as governmental regulatory bodies may fail to implement proper rules and restrictions to guard the public interest. This could lead to things like environmental harm, financial crises, and poor product quality.

How is Regulatory Capture detected?

Regulatory Capture can be identified by a consistent pattern of decisions made by a regulatory body that primarily benefit the industry it’s supposed to be regulating, even at the expense of public or consumer interest.

Can Regulatory Capture be prevented?

Yes, regulatory capture can be minimized or prevented through transparency in the regulatory process, strong ethical guidelines and practices for regulators, as well as the rotation of personnel between regulatory bodies and the industries they regulate.

What are the consequences of Regulatory Capture in the business sector?

Regulatory Capture can lead to unfair market conditions, where the ‘captured’ industry gains a competitive advantage due to lack of regulation or favorable decisions, making it difficult for new entrants and competitors.

Does Regulatory Capture apply to all industries?

While the potential for regulatory capture exists in all industries, it is particularly prevalent in sectors with strong regulatory bodies such as finance, energy, healthcare, and telecommunications.

Related Finance Terms

  • Regulatory Body: This refers to an organization that supervises or controls a particular industry or business by establishing laws, rules, and regulations.
  • Lobbying: This is the act of attempting to influence decisions made by lawmakers, especially regarding the shaping of regulation and legislature.
  • Public Interest Theory: This theory postulates that regulation is supplied in response to the demand of the public for the rectification of inefficient or inequitable market practices.
  • Industry Influence: This term refers to the ability of an industry, typically through lobbyist groups, to sway public policy or regulation in their favor.
  • Revolving Door Phenomenon: This is a term used to describe a situation where individuals can move between roles as legislators and regulators and the industries affected by the legislation and regulation.

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