IRLE Faculty Spotlight: Ray GiffordJan 8, 2021
In 2004, Ray Gifford was a former Colorado Public Utilities Commission Chairman teaching a technology law seminar with Phil Weiser, then a member of the University of Colorado School of Law faculty and now Attorney General in Colorado. The seminar focused on a thorny question: how best to engage in legitimate, just, and economically efficient public utility regulation in the presence of dynamic technological change?
Public utility regulation developed and was formalized in the early 20th century in a relatively static technological environment, after the vibrant origins of telecommunications and electricity industries in rivalrous innovation. With the development of digital innovation in the late 20th century, first in telecom and now increasingly in energy, the rate of change in technology outpaces the deliberately slow rate of change in regulation. This mismatch yields both inferior and unintended outcomes. Focusing on theoretical frameworks in law and economics that illuminate technological change and political economy can improve decision-making and improve those outcomes over time.
Ray and Phil synthesized their academic and policy backgrounds with an approach informed by Ray’s experience as an undergraduate at St. John’s College: join in open-minded dialogue about a shared reading around a shared table, bringing individual experiences, insights, and questions to enlighten and enrich each other. Applying that approach to analyzing regulation and innovation could lead to more thoughtful regulatory decision-making, so they had the idea to use the seminar as a foundation for a new workshop for state public utility regulators.
This initiative led to the formation of the Institute for Regulatory Law & Economics, grounded in the five prisms that Ray introduces at the beginning of every workshop: neoclassical economics, innovation & dynamism, institutional & organizational economics, public choice economics, and the innovator’s dilemma. Ray’s leadership has set the tone for IRLE since these origins – shared discussion of energy technology policy that synthesizes theory and practice, with the goal of improved decision-making that enables the economic (and, increasingly, the environmental) benefits of technological change to emerge and improve the lives of as many people as possible.
Ray’s quiet and eloquent intellectual leadership has been a mainstay of IRLE, as has his dry wit that encourages us not to take ourselves too seriously and have fun even as we explore important issues. His ongoing work in legal practice on utility matters, combined with his intellectual interests, means that his work engages with timely topics in regulatory practice and market design.