A Theory of Soft Capture
Capture of regulatory agencies by firms or other stakeholders has given rise to a rich literature, much of which is dominated by models in which the motivation for the welfare-reducing behavior is found in side-contracting (bribes, corruption), threats (blackmail, political support) or corresponding mechanisms for repeated games (reputation, career concerns, signaling for promotion). Notwithstanding, the empirical support for monetary corruption and 'revolving doors' is scarce and inconclusive. We propose an alternative and more intuitive model for regulatory capture that is based on information transmission and asymmetric information. In a three-tier model, a regulator is charged by a political principal to provide a signal for the type of a regulated firm. Only the firm can observe his type and the production of a correlated signal with a given accuracy is costly for the regulator. The firm can costlessly provide an alternative signal of lower accuracy that is presented to the regulator. In a self-enforcing equilibrium, the regulator transmits the firm-produced signal, internalizes its own savings in information cost and the firm enjoys higher information rents. The main feature of soft capture is that it is not based on a reciprocity of favors but on a congruence of interests between the firm and the regulator.
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