“Mandated disclosure may be the most common and least successful regulatory technique in American law.” Thus opens our book, More Than You Wanted to Know: The Failure of Mandated Disclosure (Princeton Press, 2014).
Of mandated disclosure’s triumph there is no doubt. This blog’s readers see it everywhere. Corporate scandals and financial crises ceaselessly spawn new disclosure laws: the Securities Act of 1933, the Truth-in-Lending laws of the 60s and 70s, Sarbanes-Oxley in 2002, and, recently, Dodd-Frank. Disclosure pervades tort law (“duty to warn”), consumer protection (“truth in lending”), bioethics and health care (“informed consent”), online contracting (“opportunity to read”), food law (“nutrition data”), campaign finance regulation, privacy protection, insurance regulation, and more.
This triumph is understandable. Mandated disclosure aspires to help people making complex decisions while dealing with specialists by requiring the latter (disclosers) to give the former (disclosees) information so that disclosees choose sensibly and disclosers do not abuse their position. It is seductively plausible. (Don’t people make poor decisions because they have poor information? Won’t they make good decisions with good information?) It alluringly fits all ideologies. (Thaler and Sunstein like it because it is “libertarian paternalistic”; corporations would “rather disclose than be regulated”). So mandates are enacted unopposed. Literally.