F. C. Simon, Meta‐Regulation in Practice: Beyond Normative Views of Morality and Rationality (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017). 240 pp. $45.95, ISBN: 1315308894

Published date01 September 2019
AuthorCary Coglianese
Date01 September 2019
794 Public Administration Review Septe mber | Oct ober 2 019
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 79, Iss. 5, pp. 794–798. © 2019 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.13097.
Cary Coglianese
University of Pennsylvania
F. C. Simon, Meta-Regulation in Practice: Beyond Normative
Views of Morality and Rationality (Abingdon:
Routledge, 2017). 240 pp. $45.95, ISBN: 1315308894
Meta-Regulation in Practice: Beyond
Normative Views of Morality and Rationality
is an uncommon scholarly book written
by a highly experienced practitioner. The author,
Fiona C. Simon, holds a PhD in criminology, but the
book draws primarily on her professional experience
in government and industry during a pivotal period
when Australia restructured its electricity sector to
allow retail competition. Simon’s insider account
offers a valuable cautionary tale about what can
happen when government officials abdicate their
responsibilities for solving regulatory problems.
Without regulators’ willingness to collect and analyze
evidence and then to make the necessary tough
decisions, businesses will likely face uncertainty,
consumers will lack adequate protection, and conflicts
will fester.
As indicated by the title of her book, Simon’s main
interest lies with “meta-regulation.” In particular,
she tells readers that her “book offers a critique of
meta-regulatory theory, based on practice” (14).
That critique takes aim at what Simon characterizes
as a “scholarly literature [that] proposes that meta-
regulation is an efficient and effective response to
the problems encountered by command and control
regulation” (227). She laments what she perceives
as judgments that have “been made with little to no
assessment of the regulatory costs and side effects of
meta-regulation” (227). Leveling charges of “naïveté”
(5; see also 227) and “wishful thinking” (228), she
argues that “many scholars merely observe that some
regimes have meta-regulatory characteristics ... and
then assume this must be good”—without adequately
considering actual outcomes (6).
The basis for Simon’s critique is a case history of
Australian electricity restructuring from 1999 to 2015.
The book traces a rocky path of policy development
over electricity competition from its initial adoption
in the state of Victoria to eventual retail competition
throughout Australia. Much of the book attends to
consumer protection issues, such as how electricity
companies can respond when customers fail to pay
their bills or whether those companies can rely on
unscrupulous door-to-door sales staff to pressure
consumers to switch their electricity providers. The
book offers a rich narrative of policy processes too
complex to summarize briefly but which will interest
anyone who has lived through or studied any of
the major infrastructure reforms that have occurred
around the world in recent decades.
As for Simon’s overall critique of meta-regulation
theory, some empirically inclined readers may resist
drawing inferences from a single case study. But the
book’s more fundamental limitation is conceptual,
centered on what meta-regulation means.
The term “meta-regulation” may be unfamiliar to
some readers, even those with a background or
interest in regulation. Generally speaking, meta-
regulation refers to deliberate efforts to induce
private firms to create their own internal regulations.1
Sometimes, meta-regulation has been referred to as
management-based regulation (Coglianese and Lazer
2003) or as “regulation of self-regulation” (Parker
2002, 245). This approach to regulation is often
presented as a more flexible alternative to traditional
“command-and-control” regulation.
As a term of art, meta-regulation entered the
mainstream of the regulatory lexicon in the 1990s
and early 2000s, when it began to be used by scholars
in Australia.2 Although U.S. regulatory scholars have
tended not to use the term much, its earliest use
anywhere appears to have been in a paper published in
the late 1970s by business management scholars in the
United States (Govindarajan and Gupta 1979). Since
at least the 1980s, scholars have written widely on
different types of meta-regulation without necessarily
using that precise term (e.g., Bardach and Kagan
1982; Braithwaite 1982; Gunningham 1996; Gupta
and Lad 1983; Hutter 2001; Orts 1995). Today,
meta-regulation is said to encompass an entire “family
of ‘process-oriented regulation’ that mandates and
Cary Coglianese is the Edward B. Shils
Professor of Law and Professor of Political
Science at the University of Pennsylvania,
where he serves as the founding director
of the Penn Program on Regulation. He
specializes in the study of administrative
law and regulatory policy, with an emphasis
on the empirical evaluation of alternative
processes and strategies and the role
of public participation, technology, and
business–government relations in policy
E-mail: cary_coglianese@law.upenn.edu

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