Regdata, a new database of the regulatory state

There is a new and very important regulatory database now published and on-line:

RegData: A numerical database on industry-specific regulations for all United States industries and federal regulations, 1997–2012

Omar Al-Ubaydli and Patrick A. McLaughlin


We introduce RegData, formerly known as the Industry-specific Regulatory Constraint Database. RegData annually quantifies federal regulations by industry and regulatory agency for all federal regulations from 1997–2012. The quantification of regulations at the industry level for all industries is without precedent. RegData measures regulation for industries at the two, three, and four-digit levels of the North American Industry Classification System. We created this database using text analysis to count binding constraints in the wording of regulations, as codified in the Code of Federal Regulations, and to measure the applicability of regulatory text to different industries. We validate our measures of regulation by examining known episodes of regulatory growth and deregulation, as well as by comparing our measures to an existing, cross-sectional measure of regulation. Researchers can use this database to study the determinants of industry regulations and to study regulations’ effects on a massive array of dependent variables, both across industries and time.

Here is the published piece.  Here is a working paper version.  Here is the database itself.  Here is background and an explanation of different versions of the data base.


Why the Mercatus Center gets so little mention is hard to believe. Is it because of ideological suppression by those who decide what is linked to on leading econ web sites like this one? Is it because of a lack of seriousness in the Center's work? Or is there some other reason that causes web sites like this one to avoid mentioning the generous support the Mercatus Center receives and provides in trying to influence public policy debates.

Though one should not accuse Profs. Cowen and Tabarrok of being in the thrall of left wing ideology, certainly not too hastily.

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RegData frightens me as its powers are so immense.

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I will just assume that they have filed for and received all the licenses required to publish this database.

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The graphs section has a couple that are worth noting:

1) new regulations over presidential terms: Bill Clinton had the least in the modern age, I've always thought he was a Titan, and Obama having the most, well I've never been a fan. Congress clearly has impact here, but still fascinating.

2) regulation and productivity. The difference isn't as large as I would have expected, but it's consistency is amazing. It should be the killer chart for those who campaign against regulation.

3) The chart of the top 10 regulators is pretty tame, other than the EPA which has expanded by leaps and bounds over the last 10 years. Attempting a cost benefit analysis of this daunting increase in regulation would be enormously difficult, but certainly worthwhile.

4) the charts of the increase in regulation are interesting, but don't really tell a story that is important. The important stories are productivity (which is well covered) and cost of compliance. A chart (somehow) capturing the cost of compliance would help the cause greatly.

5) you should host the database! Downloading it is great, but hosting it would be even better (for some).

On the other hand, the costs of not having regulations needs to be quantified. OSHA regulations have often freed many employers from responsibility for killing and maiming workers by preventing random criminal prosecutions and convictions by irate peers of the victims, and failing that, civil judgements in the tens of millions randomly. Corporations would prefer laws giving them the right to harm individuals without costs, but failing that, regulation is preferred, and the more complex, the greater their ability to shield themselves from liability for their harmful actions.

And the most moral and ethical want competitors from cheating and bankrupting them by screwing others to take business from them.


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