Regulation vs. torts

Responding to libertarian commenters, Paul Krugman argues that torts are not nearly as effective as environmental regulations in practice.
Commenters say, but isn’t that an equally strong reason to believe that regulation won’t work either?

Well, here’s the thing: regulation demonstrably does work where tort law doesn’t. Consider the environmental issue: in reality, the perpetrators of oil spills never pay most of the cost; but in reality, environmental regulation has led to much cleaner air and water. (Look up the history of Los Angeles smog or the fate of Lake Erie if you don’t believe me.)
Tyler Cowen dissects Krugman's argument in his typical incisive and dispassionate style, scoring points (except I don't think he's keeping score) like:
There is in fact an agency regulating off-shore drilling and in the case under question it totally failed. How can Lake Erie, an orthogonally related success, be cited but this very directly relevant failure not be mentioned?
As usual, Cowen comes across as eminently sensible and I find it hard to disagree with much that he says. Am I just too rushed, and/or not trying hard enough?


  1. I think an importance nuance you haven't discussed is when government/regulators effectively establish rules for torts, such as the oft-cited $75m cap.

  2. Good point. In theory these caps would definitely limit the deterrence from torts. I don't think they are so static in practice (see Exhibit A: Senate demands BP pay $34 billion).