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Institutionalized Meaning and Policymaking: Revisiting the Causes of American Financial Deregulation

Mon, August 14, 8:30 to 10:10am, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 513D


Important economic and social consequences followed the deregulation of the American banking system, and the causes of this regulatory change have attracted considerable interest from scholars across the social sciences. This article is one of the first to place the American case of financial deregulation in comparative perspective, a shift that reveals a puzzling pattern. Far from being the global leader in deregulation (as the conventional wisdom holds), the U.S. was actually the global laggard. Extant theories of deregulation, which emphasize the effects of rising inflation, increasing bank power, the ascendance of Ronald Reagan, aspects of U.S. state structure, or changes in economic thought, all fail to explain why American policymakers were so slow to deregulate. Drawing from archival data (1933-1980) and contrasting events in the U.S. with events in Canada and Spain, I develop a revised cultural/cognitive institutional account to explain this pattern. This account highlights how the meanings embedded within extant regulatory regimes can block or facilitate policy change.