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The Futility of Cost-Benefit Analysis in Financial Disclosure Regulation

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What would happen if cost-benefit analysis (CBA) were applied to disclosure regulations? Mandated disclosure has largely escaped rigorous CBA because it looks so plausible: disclosure seems rich in benefits and low in cost. This article makes two arguments. First, it previews our thesis in More Than You Wanted to Know that disclosure laws do not deliver their anticipated benefits and thus cannot easily pass quantified CBA. Second, it describes a previously unrecognized cost of disclosure, one arising from lawmakers’ collective-action problem. With the proliferation of disclosures, each new mandate diminishes the attention that people can give to other information, including all other disclosures. The problem for CBA is lawmakers’ inability to coordinate laws across different fields and jurisdictions. This article illustrates this regulatory failure by examining the rigorous cost-effectiveness analysis conducted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for its recent mortgage disclosure regulation.

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