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Breaking the Vicious Circle: Toward Effective Risk Regulation [Paperback]

Stephen Breyer
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

April 14, 1995 0674081153 978-0674081154
Breaking the Vicious Circle is a tour de force that should be read by everyone who is interested in improving our regulatory processes. Written by a highly respected federal judge, who would go on to serve on the Supreme Court, and who obviously recognizes the necessity of regulation but perceives its failures and weaknesses as well, it pinpoints the most serious problems and offers a creative solution that would for the first time bring rationality to bear on the vital issue of priorities in our era of limited resources.

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Editorial Reviews


Reads like one of those intellectually exciting lectures for which some professors become so well known that their courses are fittingly oversubscribed every year. The style is clear and the analysis is dotted with the kind of provocative questions at the heart of this debate: how much regulation is enough, how much is too much, and the ultimate question, what is the dollar value of a life? (Neil A. Lewis New York Times Book Review)

An eloquent meditation on how to regulate perilous activities in a world that cannot afford to reduce risk to zero. (Peter Passell New York Times)

Breyer takes the reader by the hand through what he calls a 'vicious circle' of skewed public perception, congressional reaction, and scientific uncertainty to show why the U.S. has been unable to balance the cost of regulating substances with the benefit of protecting the public...Breyer's book gives the public an understandable introduction to the complexity of regulating health risks. (Mary Beth Regan Business Week)

One of the more trenchant proposals yet for what might constitute the next leg on the endless journey toward legislative reform...A clear and thoughtful meditation on how to build a better government, by taking the nature of the press, politics and scientific knowledge into account. (David Warsh Boston Sunday Globe)

[Breyer's] discussion of the inconsistencies in our current approach to environmental regulation is a tour de force, confidently integrating science and policy in terms easily accessible to the intelligent layman... Breyer's analysis surely can illuminate. (Stephen F. Williams Michigan Law Review)

About the Author

Stephen Breyer is Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 14, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674081153
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674081154
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #622,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About how many Democratic/liberal jurists could it be said that in assessing the U.S. regulatory system "he perceives its failures and weaknesses" ? (from the Publisher's summary of Breyer's book). In my opinion, the book is potentially even more relevant now than when it was first published in 1993. Its main theme, risk analysis, boils down to recognizing that addressing regulatory policy by armwaving or through political machinations will be inefficient and serve neither side well in the long run. A better approach is weighing, quantitatively where possible, risk involved in various approaches.

The decade of the 1990s produced most of the meaningful environmental regulatory reforms in the last 30 years. These include the Clean Air Amendments of 1990 (GHW Bush Administration), and the Clinton/Gore "Reinventing Government" initiative. It generated many academic and think-tank books and initiatives, like those by Resources for the Future. Since then, however, regulatory policy has become so radioactive that many formerly active academic researchers have abandoned active interest in researching and writing about reform. One of the best books is Daniel Fiorina's "The New Environmental Regulations" (2006).

Steven Breyer is one of the longest-serving Supreme Court justices. He was nominated by Bill Clinton and approved by the Senate in 1980. Before his (still active) role on the Supreme Court, Breyer was a professor at the Harvard Law School. He produced respected articles and analyses on legal theory. But, most relevant to this book, Breyer also led a bold Harvard research program in risk assessment, with special application to regulatory policy.
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