Deregulation

Written By
Paul Tracy
Updated November 4, 2020

What is Deregulation?

Deregulation occurs when there is a significant decrease or elimination of government regulation over an industry, market, or economy.

How Does Deregulation Work?

The transportation industry is one of the most famous industries to feel the effects of deregulation. In 1887, Congress established the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), which regulated the railroad industry. Over time, the ICC came to regulate the trucking industry as well. The ICC licensed all truck operators, and it required new entrants to prove they were "necessary for the public convenience" in order to obtain licenses. The ICC allowed established shippers to argue whether the ICC should deny a license to a new entrant. The ICC also reviewed shipping rates, dictated what products the carriers could haul, what routes they could travel, and the cities they could do business in.

The inefficiency imposed by regulation and its focus on helping companies more than consumers became very apparent once the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 deregulated the trucking industry. The number of carriers nearly doubled in the four years after the legislation, freight rates fell as much as 20% in one year, overall industry wages fell, and many inefficient companies went out of business.
 
A similar situation occurred in the airline industry, which was regulated by the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) until 1978. Like the ICC, the CAB issued licenses, set fares, and regulated where carriers did business. The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 eliminated these constraints, and the airline industry quickly expanded in employment, miles flown, and number of passengers.

Why Does Deregulation Matter?

Like most economic policy, deregulation is controversial. Most economists agree that deregulation lowers an industry's barriers to entry and generally increases efficiency, competition, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Established producers have less control over competitors in a deregulated environment. Deregulation also benefits the broader economy because it no longer requires taxpayers to support the regulatory agency's overhead.
 
Overall, deregulation tends to increase choices and lower prices for consumers. In some cases, however, deregulation can be damaging to consumers, especially when natural monopolies are involved (such as electric utilities or other situations with immense infrastructure or technical needs). Some also point out that the elimination of weaker competitors in a deregulated environment means the loss of jobs.

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