Against Being Against the Revolving Door

The revolving door between jobs in the public and private sector supposedly incentivizes government regulators to regulate on behalf of the industry interests for whom they will eventually work. It is a critical building block of the critique of government solutions to modern problems, and has, in the last two years, been the subject of one of the Obama administration’s first executive orders, made an appearance in financial regulatory reform legislation, and been blamed for the government’s failure to prevent the Gulf oil spill and quickly pass health care reform.But the revolving door’s explanatory power is remarkably overstated, especially when the subject is law enforcement. Most government officials have plenty of reasons to do a good job; it may even enhance their private sector earning potential, to say nothing of their more immediate futures in the public sector. The revolving door may also foster citizen participation in government. A study of the careers of a tranche of elite Manhattan prosecutors does not reveal any evidence of those who leave doing the bidding of those they regulate while in public service.Moreover, as a legal matter, eliminating the revolving door would raise serious legal and even constitutional questions. The revolving door has become an overused shorthand for—at its worst—a toxic cynicism about government. It is time to reject it.

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