George Stigler on His Head: The Consequences of Restrictions on Competition in (Bank) Regulation

60 Pages Posted: 29 May 2018 Last revised: 8 Jun 2018

Date Written: May 18, 2018


Bank regulation used to be riddled with price, product, entry, and location restrictions. These restrictions were intended to prevent the recurrence of crises, such as those of the 1930s and 1940s. Over time, however, regulatory acquiescence to technological and institutional innovation undermined their ability to limit competition. An intellectual turn toward valorizing competition also hastened their demise. George Stigler, in particular, provided a trenchant critique of all such regulation as the product of pure rent seeking by private industry.

This Article revisits the role of such restrictions on competition in banking. On the one hand, the public choice account of these restrictions as the outcome of private rent seeking is essentially true. On the other hand, their unintended historical result was to limit banks’ risk-taking incentives and to coopt banks into preventing regulatory arbitrage. Viewed from this perspective, these restrictions provide an important legal, political, and economic (LPE) model for how limits on competition could usefully complement current bank regulation. This model is one in which, to some extent, regulation facilitates rather than frustrates cartel formation in order to maintain a more stable equilibrium.

Keywords: Regulation, Banking, Finance, Oligopoly, Law and Economics

JEL Classification: D43, E32, E42, E44, K23, L13, L43, L51, N82

Suggested Citation

Krishnamurthy, Prasad, George Stigler on His Head: The Consequences of Restrictions on Competition in (Bank) Regulation (May 18, 2018). Yale Journal on Regulation, Forthcoming, UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Prasad Krishnamurthy (Contact Author)

U.C. Berkeley School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States


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