Efficiency, legitimacy, and the administrative state

Samuel DeCanio*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


This essay examines certain epistemic problems facing administrative states' efforts to draft efficient regulations for their societies. I argue that a basic feature of the administrative state's authority, namely its monopoly over the production of legally binding rules for all members of a geographically defined society, creates epistemic problems that impede efficient rule-making. Specifically, the administrative state's monopoly over the production of legally binding rules prevents multiple public policies from being simultaneously implemented and compared. The resulting singularity of administrative states' regulatory decisions prevents observation of the counterfactual effects of policies that were possible but which were not implemented. The absence of observable policy counterfactuals frustrates efforts to assess the efficiency of administrative states' decisions, as it is impossible to determine whether different policies would have generated greater benefits at lower cost than the policy the state implemented. As these epistemic problems are derived from the singularity of administrative states' decisions, they exist independently of principal agent problems, suboptimal incentives, or the preferences and capabilities of administrative personnel.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)198-219
Number of pages22
JournalSocial Philosophy and Policy
Issue number1
Early online date11 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Administrative state
  • Bureaucratic efficiency
  • Causal inference
  • Counterfactuals
  • Experiments
  • FDA
  • Public choice theory


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