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Regulatory discretion: structuring power in the era of regulatory capitalism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2021

Rebecca Schmidt
School of Law, University of Oslo, Norway
Colin Scott
University College Dublin, Ireland


Discretion gives decision makers choices as to how resources are allocated, or how other aspects of state largesse or coercion are deployed. Discretionary state power challenges aspects of the rule of law, first by transferring decisions from legislators to departments, agencies and street-level bureaucrats and secondly by risking the uniform application of key fairness and equality norms. Concerns to find alternative and decentred forms of regulation gave rise to new types of regulation, sometimes labeled ‘regulatory capitalism’. Regulatory capitalism highlights the roles of a wider range of actors exercising powers and a wider range of instruments. It includes also new forms of discretion, for example over automated decision making processes, over the formulation and dissemination of league tables or over the use of behavioural measures. This paper takes a novel approach by linking and extending the significant literature on these changing patterns of regulatory administration with consideration of the changing modes of deployment of discretion. Using this specific lens, we observe two potentially contradictory trends: an increase in determining and structuring administrative decision, leading to a more transparent use of discretion; and the increased use of automated decision making processes which have the potential of producing a less transparent black box scenario.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Society of Legal Scholars

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Rebecca Schmidt’s research is financed by the VIROS project (Vulnerability in the Robot Society), funded by the Research Council of Norway (project number 247947).


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