In recent times, information technology has made it easier to observe a seller’s reputation and to contribute to the formation of a seller’s reputation at low cost. Yelp, Angie’s List, and Amazon Reviews all make it easy for past buyers to report their observations on seller quality and for future buyers to observe a seller’s accumulated reputation.
This might mean that we need less regulation. Other possibilities:
1. We have always had the means to use reputation systems as an alternative to regulation. But regulation is the preferred outcome of the political system, perhaps for bootleggers and baptists’ reasons. The advent of better information and technology actually does not change the relative economic and political advantages of regulation.
2. One issue with reputation systems is that there is an ongoing temptation to game them. Consider “search engine optimization” or “social media marketing.” Surely there are folks out there offering to get your business top rankings on Yelp. Given that gaming will work at least sometimes, is an unregulated equilibrium necessarily the best?
3. It becomes harder for new entrants to break into a market governed by reputation than one governed by regulation. Obtaining a license from a regulatory agency might be easier than obtaining visibility in a rating system.