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The Issuer Choice Debate

Fox, Merritt B.

This article responds to Professor Romano's piece in this issue. It concerns our ongoing debate with regard to the desirability of permitting issuers to choose the securities regulation regime by which they are bound. Romano favors issuer choice, arguing that it would result in jurisdictional competition to offer issuers share value maximizing regulations. I, in contrast, believe that abandoning the current mandatory system of federal securities disclosure would likely lower, not increase, US welfare. Each issuer, I argue, would select a regime requiring a level of disclosure less than is socially optimal because its private costs of disclosure would be greater than the social costs of such disclosure. Professor Romano and I agree on most of the basic analytic building blocks for deciding whether issuer choice is a desirable reform: belief in analyzing the problem in terms of the broadly accepted principles of modem financial economics; recognition that disclosure has costs as well as benefits; and acknowledgment that incentives exist for issuers to provide at least some disclosure. We nevertheless reach the opposite conclusion on the desirability of issuer choice. To start, Romano believes that issuers' private costs of disclosure will not generally be greater than the social costs of such disclosure, whereas I show they will be. Romano argues as well that this is a special case in which any divergence of private and social costs that does exist will not lead to a market failure, at least one possibly correctable by public regulation. I show her argument to be unpersuasive. Finally, Romano interprets the existing empirical evidence as proving mandatory disclosure's lack of social value, while I show that the evidence in fact does not point in either direction. Where, as here, the theoretical case for the existence of a market failure is strong and the current program for dealing with it is widely admired, the advocate of change should have the burden of proof. Professor Romano has not met this burden. If she is serious about advancing her proposal for issuer choice, she needs to show that despite the market failure inherent in issuer choice, there is inevitably an even greater failure in the regulatory response. Absent such a showing, mandatory disclosure should be retained.


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Theoretical Inquiries in Law

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October 14, 2015