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

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.
Jerry Ellig, Patrick McLaughlin | Nov 01, 2011
This article assesses the quality and apparent use of regulatory analysis for economically significant regulations proposed by federal agencies in 2008.
Patrick McLaughlin | Aug 01, 2011
I test the level of information regarding possible groundwater contamination in the residential real estate market in Washington County, Minnesota. An approximately seven square-mile trichloroethylene plume has affected hundreds of households’ water supplies since at least 1988 in the region. I find that homeowners were initially well-informed by market forces, but were later somewhat misinformed by government actions regarding the potential of water contamination from the plume. A disclosure law passed in 2003 may have added new, low-cost, and imperfect information to the market that could explain the change in informational awareness.

Working Papers

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, Jerry Ellig, Dima Yazji Shamoun | Mar 18, 2014
As the quantity and scope of regulations in Florida grow, so does the degree to which they affect the economy. In these circumstances, a little reform to the process of creating regulations can go a long way toward crafting an environment that fosters competitiveness and economic efficiency.
Patrick McLaughlin, Richard Williams | Feb 11, 2014
The American regulatory system has no working, systematic process for reviewing regulations for obsolescence or poor performance. Over time, this has facilitated the accumulation a vast stock of regulations. Regulatory accumulation can negatively affect GDP growth, labor productivity, innovation, and safety—perhaps explaining why every president since Jimmy Carter has recognized it as a problem.


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.
Patrick McLaughlin | Apr 01, 2015
The average adult reads prose text at a rate of 250 to 300 words per minute. If you read the Code of Federal Regulations at 300 words per minute on a full-time basis, it would take you nearly three years to get through just the version of the CFR published in 2012. That’s about 58 times longer than it would take to read through the five volumes currently published in George R. R. Martin’s fantasy saga, A Song of Ice and Fire. Or 220 times longer than it would take to read through The Lord of the Rings from the original R. R. of fantasy—J. R. R. Tolkien.
Patrick McLaughlin | Oct 16, 2014
Simply counting executive orders, pages, or words can produce misleading statistics. In legal language, at least, the frequency with which restrictions occur can serve as a proxy for measuring the overall restrictiveness of text. Content matters.
Patrick McLaughlin | Sep 23, 2014
This chart depicts two data series from RegData 2.0—word counts and restriction counts. Each series contains aggregated statistics for all federal regulatory agencies that were required to engage in rulemaking by the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010.
Patrick McLaughlin | Aug 19, 2014
RegData 2.0 is a newly launched regulation database that permits users to view regulatory statistics for hundreds of federal agencies. The chart uses statistics pulled from the new RegData website to determine which federal regulators published the most restrictions in the year 2012 and compare the number of restrictions from these regulators in 2012 to the number of restrictions they published ten years earlier.

Policy Briefs

Testimony & Comments

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.
Patrick McLaughlin | Aug 01, 2013
Chairman Blumenthal, Ranking Member Hatch, and members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify today. I am an economist and senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a 501(c)(3) research, educational, and outreach organization in Arlington, Virginia. My primary research focuses on the regulatory process and how it could be improved, so I am delighted to testify on today’s topic.

Research Summaries & Toolkits

Media Clippings

Expert Commentary

Jul 29, 2015

Mercatus Center scholars have repeatedly documented the costs of occupational licensing and offered suggestions for how to reform or eliminate unnecessary licensing practices.
Jul 23, 2015

Some recent regulatory milestones have been crossed. First, we've reached the five-year anniversary of Dodd-Frank. I recently published some charts showing that Dodd-Frank may be the biggest law ever, if the size is measured by how much new regulatory text it spawns. No one disputes this fact: Dodd-Frank created a massive surge in regulations, and it did so in a relatively short time span.
Jun 09, 2015

For the first time in six years, Congress finally passed a budget resolution. The federal budget process, when it works, permits Congress to monitor and fund programs based on their fiscal impact. Yet every Congressional budget masks the true economic costs of federal spending. Mandatory spending, which makes up the vast majority of federal spending and includes interest on the national debt, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, is not part of the annual budget process.
May 18, 2015

Unfortunately, for a governing body like the NFL to admit a policy's failure seems to require undeniable, unforgettable, alarming visual evidence. It's not just the NFL that apparently has to be shocked into change. Federal, state and local governments have a longstanding tradition of ignoring problematic policies right up until the point that innocent and unwilling participants are irrevocably harmed by the policy.



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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