Regulation with ’20-20 Hindsight’: Least-Cost Rules and Variable Costs

By September 1, 1992Library

Thomas P. Lyon, Erb Faculty Member was published in The Journal of Industrial Economics, 40(3): 277-289. Thomas P. Lyon (1992)


Regulators sometimes review a regulated firm’s input decisions in retrospect (i.e., with “20-20 hindsight”) and punish bad outcomes rather than bad decisions. When such practices are applied consistently to contracts for variable factors in a regime with profit regulation, the firm increases its capital stock and relies more heavily on spot market purchases for its variable inputs; the firm’s profits are reduced, but welfare effects on consumers are ambiguous. If applied as a type of “stochastic price cap” regulation, however, hindsight review can induce variable input choices that minimize expected costs.

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