Regulatory authorities are entities, usually part of the executive branch of a government, that have the authority to enforce and sometimes to create regulations to organize, manage, and oversee some aspect or aspects of society. The most visible types of regulatory authorities in most Western nations are those whose mandates focus on labor relations, economic practices and banking, or consumer safety. Many other agencies with such regulatory power are part of a typical government, however, and may monitor aspects of human behavior ranging from religious observance to home construction. Modern societies are often engaged in ongoing debates about the desirability of regulation, and many tend to follow a cyclical pattern of regulation and deregulation.
Financial regulatory authorities, such as the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), are usually tasked with ensuring that the rules of the marketplace are followed. Such agencies defend a free market economy by combating such abuses as insider trading, market manipulation, and various types of fraud. Other financial regulatory authorities deal with questions of banking, real estate, and most other areas of economic life, usually with similar mandates to prevent abuses and keep the market working smoothly.
Consumer safety is another area where regulatory authorities are often active. Most governments have agencies tasked with ensuring that foodstuffs are pure, safe, and accurately labeled, or that medicines are safe, pure, and effective. Similarly, regulatory authorities exist to set standards for safety in other consumer products, doing things such as checking for toxic compounds or faulty construction.
Regulatory authorities also often exist to manage public assets. These include the environment, water, forestry, and mining. Less tangible public assets, such as the airwaves and telecommunication access, are also often regulated.
Governments typically empower regulators to ensure that transportation meets minimum standards for safety and environmental impact. Ordinary citizens, however, are most likely to deal with agencies that regulate motorized road vehicles. Similar agencies normally exist to handle air and sea vehicles.
More repressive governments may charter regulatory authorities to deal with areas of cultural or personal life. Most authoritarian regimes employ an office of the censor, responsible for regulating the content of printed or other media. Governments with a defined state religion may employ special religious police to enforce religious practice.
The complexity of modern life tends to lead to a steady increase in regulation. New areas of economic or cultural activity emerge and are regulated, but older regulations do not always disappear. Some see this growth of regulation as a necessary evil of living in a complicated modern world, while others fear that over-regulation could stifle human cultural or economic activity.