Patrick McLaughlin

Patrick McLaughlin

  • Senior Research Fellow

Patrick A. McLaughlin is a Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. His research focuses on regulations and the regulatory process, with additional interests in environmental economics, international trade, industrial organization, and transportation economics.

Prior to joining Mercatus, Dr. McLaughlin served as a Senior Economist at the Federal Railroad Administration in the United States Department of Transportation. 

 Dr. McLaughlin has published in the fields of law and economics, public choice, environmental economics, and international trade. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from Clemson University.

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Published Research

Jerry Ellig, Patrick McLaughlin | May 2016
We assess the effects of both regulatory changes on railroad safety with the use of RegData and find that partial economic deregulation is associated with improved safety. Safety regulation was most closely associated with improved railroad safety during the period when economic regulation curtailed railroads’ incentives to operate safely.
Omar Ahmad Al-Ubaydli, Patrick McLaughlin | Dec 16, 2015
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.
Patrick McLaughlin, Jerry Ellig, John Morrall | Jun 01, 2013
This paper compares the quality and use of regulatory analysis accompanying economically significant regulations proposed by US executive branch agencies in 2008, 2009, and 2010. We find that the quality of regulatory analysis is generally low, but varies widely.
Jerry Ellig, Patrick McLaughlin | Dec 01, 2011
Using data from the Mercatus Center’s Regulatory Report Card project and statistics on Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) review time from, we examine whether the quality and use of regulatory analysis vary consistently with OIRA actions.

Working Papers

Bentley Coffey, Patrick McLaughlin, Pietro Peretto | Apr 26, 2016
The impact of regulation on economic growth has been widely studied, but most research has focused on a narrow set of regulations, industries, or both. In order to better understand the cumulative cost of regulation, a comprehensive look at all regulations across many industries over a long period of time is imperative.
Patrick McLaughlin, Laura Stanley | Jan 20, 2016
A new study for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University examines the relationship between income inequality and the number of regulatory steps necessary to start a business. Looking at 175 countries and multiple variables, the study finds that there is a positive relationship between entry regulations and income inequality.
Jason J. Fichtner, Patrick McLaughlin | Jun 02, 2015
The current legislative and regulatory processes may not adequately inform Congress about the scope and economic consequences of legislation. Even if Congress had such information, no mechanism exists to allow Congress to easily act upon it. The budget process permits Congress to monitor and fund programs based on fiscal impact information. These processes could be improved to provide more, better, and actionable information about legislative and regulatory actions, especially through a reform that we term “legislative impact accounting.”…
Omar Ahmad Al-Ubaydli, Patrick McLaughlin | Nov 12, 2014
RegData is a new database that quantifies federal regulation. It analyzes the text of federal regulations to create novel and objective measures of the accumulation of regulations in the economy overall and across different industries in the United States. In addition, RegData measures the degree to which different groups of regulations, such as those from a particular agency, target specific industries.


Patrick McLaughlin | Apr 26, 2016
Compared to a scenario where regulations are held constant at levels observed in 1980, the study finds that the difference between the economy we are in and a hypothetical economy where regulatory accumulation halted in 1980 is approximately $4 trillion.
Patrick McLaughlin, Oliver Sherouse | Mar 02, 2016
But it is interesting to note that even a simple glance at the empirical evidence brings into question the theory that regulations are created because of new technologies. Credit cards, in some form or another, have been around for at least 50 years. On the other hand, the usage of credit cards has proliferated over this time period, and the features of credit cards themselves have evolved. The recent surge may reflect a response to either the evolution of the size of the credit card market, or the features of credit cards themselves.
Patrick McLaughlin, Chad Reese, Oliver Sherouse | Feb 04, 2016
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act has been generally associated with an explosion in federal financial regulatory restrictions. RegData permits us to specifically examine which agencies produced regulatory restrictions associated with the law. Dodd-Frank was associated with a substantial increase in the Federal Reserve’s role as a regulator, as its number of regulations jumped 32 percent in the 4 years since the passage of the legislation.
Patrick McLaughlin, Oliver Sherouse | Jan 21, 2016
Recent research has shown that heavy regulation reduces entrepreneurship and employment opportunities and can divert investment from the most productive uses. The accumulation of regulation has also been associated with diminished labor productivity growth. On a macroeconomic scale, the buildup of regulation has slowed economic growth by an average of 2 percentage points, according to a study published in the Journal of Economic Growth. Policymakers should consider how existing regulations target certain industries more than others and whether heavy regulation of some industries is conveying enough benefits to justify the associated costs to the economy.
Patrick McLaughlin, Oliver Sherouse | Sep 29, 2015
The database RegData quantifies the regulatory restrictions produced by each federal regulatory agency each year. We used RegData to merge its agency-specific restrictions data series with data on agency budgets from the Regulators’ Budget, produced by the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University. This combined dataset allowed us to examine the simple correlation over time between the number of regulations an agency had published and the agency’s budget.
Patrick McLaughlin, Oliver Sherouse | Aug 26, 2015
The following chart gives a timeline of regulatory accumulation associated with the FDCA and its major amendments, from 1980 (the first year RegData can associate restrictions with laws, because RegData relies on digitized text) through 2014. One notable feature of the graph is the decline in restrictions starting in 1996 through 1999. That period, which included the passage of the FDA Modernization Act of 1997, saw a 12 percent decrease in restrictions.
Patrick McLaughlin, Oliver Sherouse | Aug 03, 2015
Presidents and their administrations wield extraordinary authority over federal regulation. While executive agencies can only write rules within the bounds set by Congress, their mandates are often expansive. Presidents set priorities, appoint and direct agency leadership, and determine how and when to review proposed or existing rules for cost-efficiency and consistency. These decisions materially affect the pace of regulatory accumulation during a president’s time in office, which in turn affects the cost and complexity of doing business in the United States.
Patrick McLaughlin, Oliver Sherouse | Jul 20, 2015
RegData, an online interactive tool, allows us to quantify the regulatory surge of Dodd-Frank in context. By analyzing the text of regulations and counting the words and phrases that signify a mandatory or prohibited activity—such as shall, must, may not, prohibited, and required—RegData gives a more meaningful measure of regulation than simply counting the number of new rules created or the number of pages added to the Federal Register.

Policy Briefs

Testimony & Comments

Patrick McLaughlin | Feb 24, 2016
My testimony focuses on how our regulatory process, contrary to what many expect, contributes to poverty. Some people maintain the notion that the costs of regulation are limited to compliance costs, and that these costs are paid primarily by businesses. This belief is incorrect. I will highlight two specific ways that the costs of regulation can actually be regressive, meaning that the costs are disproportionately borne by low-income households:…
Patrick McLaughlin | Mar 02, 2015
One reason it has been hard to address regulatory accumulation is the difficulty of identifying nonfunctional rules—rules that are obsolete, unnecessary, duplicative, or otherwise undesirable. An independent group or commission—not regulatory agencies—seems required to successfully identify nonfunctional rules.
Patrick McLaughlin, Gary D. Leff | Sep 22, 2014
The proposed rule requires sellers of travel to offer information and disclosures in a uniform set of ways, despite a lack of evidence suggesting the specific information contemplated by the proposed rule represents the particular set of facts that each consumer needs to understand for every trip.
Patrick McLaughlin | Feb 11, 2014
In examining the reforms under consideration, first, I will discuss why regulatory accumulation is a public policy problem: regulatory accumulation creates substantial drag on economic growth by impeding innovation and entrepreneurship.

Research Summaries & Toolkits

Patrick McLaughlin, Nita Ghei, Michael Wilt | May 04, 2016
Federal regulators often have good intentions when they propose new rules. However, at best, policymakers only consider the implications of each regulation on its own before it is implemented. They pay little attention to how the buildup of regulations over time has hindered innovation and damaged economic growth.
Patrick McLaughlin, Oliver Sherouse | Jan 21, 2016
Federal regulation is applicable in the same way in all 50 states. Each state’s economy, however, includes a unique mix of industries, so federal policies that target specific sectors of the economy will affect states in different ways. For 2013, Wyoming scored a 1.59 on the FRASE index. By design, the FRASE index for the United States overall in any year will equal 1, so a score of 1.59 indicates that the impact of federal regulation on Wyoming’s industries was almost 60 percent higher than the impact on the nation overall.
Patrick McLaughlin, Oliver Sherouse | Jan 21, 2016
Federal regulation is applicable in the same way in all 50 states. Each state’s economy, however, includes a unique mix of industries, so federal policies that target specific sectors of the economy will affect states in different ways. For 2013, Nevada scored a 0.82 on the FRASE index. By design, the FRASE index for the United States overall in any year will equal 1, so a score of 0.82 indicates that the impact of federal regulation on Nevada’s industries was almost 20 percent lower than the impact on the nation overall.
Patrick McLaughlin, Oliver Sherouse | Jan 21, 2016
Federal regulation is applicable in the same way in all 50 states. Each state’s economy, however, includes a unique mix of industries, so federal policies that target specific sectors of the economy will affect states in different ways. For 2013, Kentucky scored a 1.30 on the FRASE index. By design, the FRASE index for the United States overall in any year will equal 1, so a score of 1.30 indicates that the impact of federal regulation on Kentucky’s industries was about 30 percent higher than the impact on the nation overall.

Media Clippings

Expert Commentary

May 11, 2016

Technology will always outpace regulation, but it requires a different set of incentives, plus a dose of humility, for regulators to admit that a regulation’s day is done.
Apr 19, 2016

Even if the different regional and state impacts of new regulatory policies are not deliberate design features, the fact remains that some areas feel more impact than others.
Apr 15, 2016

Do the different impacts of federal regulations on the states affect the political inclinations of voters? It's a plausible hypothesis, but one that is well beyond the scope of our study or this essay. And politics certainly was not a factor in the construction of our data.
Mar 09, 2016

Regulations, which erect barriers to entry and make it difficult for entrepreneurs at the bottom rungs of the income distribution to start a business, may be one factor increasing income inequality.



Patrick McLaughlin



Patrick McLaughlin | July 21, 2015
On the fifth anniversary of Dodd-Frank, Patrick McLaughlin discusses the regulatory impact this has had on the banking industry for the Morning Brief with Tim Farley on POTUS on Sirius XM…
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