In its simplest (and most easily identifiable) form, capture occurs when those responsible for regulating a given industry create regulatory regimes that are both favorable to that same industry and contrary to the broader public interest. The financial crisis of 2007-2008 renewed scholarly interest in the concept of regulatory capture as researchers sought to understand the conditions that enabled the finance industry to wreak havoc on the economy, and what could be done to prevent similar regulatory failure in the future. Unfortunately, studying, describing, and evaluating the presence and relevance of capture is complicated by many factors. These include the difficulty of measuring self, industry, and public interest; unclear ethical norms surrounding the determination of when influence is “undue”; and disparate characteristics and structures of industries and their regulating agencies.
Culture, too, is often considered a difficult to quantify entity. Even for anthropologists, whose work is most closely associated with the study of culture, there are a range of definitions and identifiable characteristics, and culture is notable for its resistance to quantification in the manner of a simple variable. However, the cultures of both industry actors and regulators certainly play an important role in the processes that underlie capture.
In spite of the difficulties in grappling with both culture and capture, there is growing sense among scholars of both that analytic attention to the relationship between the two is needed. In collaboration with the Tobin Project’s Preventing Capture Initiative, this initiative is exploring promising paths forward for research that identifies important cultural mechanisms of undue industry influence and builds understanding of how we might best mitigate cultural capture in the future.