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Understanding rating addiction: US courts and the origins of rating agencies' regulatory license (1900–1940)

  • Marc Flandreau (a1) and Joanna Kinga Sławatyniec (a1)

This article challenges the ‘regulatory license’ view that reliance by regulators on the output of rating agencies in the 1930s ‘caused’ the agencies to become a central part of the fabric of the US financial system. We argue that long before the 1930s, courts began using ratings as financial-community-produced norms of prudence. This created ‘a legal license’ problem, very analogous to the ‘regulatory license’ problem, and gave rise to conflicts of interest not unlike those that have been discussed in the context of the subprime crisis. Rating agencies may have had substantial responsibility for the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Corresponding author
Corresponding author: Marc Flandreau, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Maison de la Paix, Chemin Eugène-Rigot 2, Case Postale 136 CH1211 Genève 21, Switzerland,,
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Financial History Review
  • ISSN: 0968-5650
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