Effects of Government Regulations



Edward B. Shils Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science

Project Summary

This summer I worked as a research assistant to Professor Cary Coglianese with Penn Program on Regulation to examine the effects of government regulations. My primary responsibilities include conducting literature review and gathering information on specific areas including Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and factors affecting public trust in political institutions. I also examined the norm shifts regarding the abolitionist movement and indoor smoking ban.

My literature review on OSHA finds that its inspection leads to enhanced workplace safety but its effects are constrained by its inadequate capacity. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency established in the 1970s to respond to the growing concerns over unsafe work environment. Since its inception, it has faced criticisms of ineffectiveness, inefficiency, and disruption of business activities. My literature review finds that OSHA enforcements produce overall positive results as the injury and death rate of workers have been decreasing. In addition, the recent literature has found that OSHA enforcement does not reduce business revenue or survival. Part of the causes of these criticisms perhaps lies in OSHA’s inadequate capacity due to stagnant funding authority. Currently, there are only around 1,800 OSHA inspectors nationwide responsible for protecting 130 million workers. The low inspection rate has weighed in businesses’ decision to delay addressing workplace hazards.

My literature review on government legitimacy identifies a lack of well-defined research subject and certain consensus in this field. Since the 1960s, there has been an apparent and consistent decrease in the public’s trust in government, which spurred researchers’ attention. The Miller-Citrin debate in 1974 revolved around the subject of “trust”: whether it simply means satisfaction with the incumbent administration or the regime in general. Both offered compelling evidence and inspired later research focus. My literature review finds that the concept of “trust” in the context of public administration has not been well defined, which leads to measurement challenges. In addition, the causal relationship between government performance and trust faces similar challenges due to difficulties in measuring performance and information costs for citizens to evaluate government. However, there exists a consensus among existing literature that political entities’ compliance with procedures and citizen participation enhance public trust. Such findings provide valuable insight for future research.

I think my experience with this research project has been immensely helpful and beneficial. I have not only gained exposure to legal research methods but also a mindset for approaching the research subject. Specifically, I learned the importance of clearly identifying objectives in order to navigate through a completely new field. Most often, the methods for collecting preliminary information are very similar, but elevating the research to the next level requires an intentional focus based on the research objectives. In the beginning of my research, I often found myself struggling with processing a plethora of information because I hoped to present a complete overview. As time progressed, I learned the importance of approaching the subject mindfully, which significantly enhanced my efficiency. I think this is the most important lesson I learned from this experience.