Michael Farren, Christopher Koopman, Matthew Mitchell | Jul 19, 2016
New technology can cause significant changes in an industry, potentially improving both consumer welfare and governance. The initial reaction of many regulators to the advent of “ridesharing” platforms such as Uber and Lyft was either to outlaw them or to burden them with the same level of regulations as taxis. But policymakers are now beginning to take a new approach. They are aiming to achieve regulatory parity between ridesharing platforms and taxis by deregulating taxis. In a new study, “Rethinking Taxi Regulations: The Case for Fundamental Reform,” Mercatus research fellows Michael Farren and Christopher Koopman and senior research fellow Matthew Mitchell determine that taxi regulation is outdated in light of the transformative technology changes and business innovations of the last few years. Now is an opportune time for fundamental reform of the entire regulatory regime to create a fair, open, and competitive transportation market.
Adam C. Smith | Jul 19, 2016
Over the last few decades, psychologists have challenged economists on the notion that people always make rational decisions. Economists, of course, recognize that people are not always perfectly rational. Modeling them as such often adds to the precision of the model’s result, without reducing its relevance. Put another way, economists assume that most of the time people act rationally enough that modeling them as perfectly rational does not get in the way of discovering new insights into human behavior. Nevertheless, behavioral psychologists found this rational choice–based method wanting and have amassed a sizeable body of research demonstrating certain “anomalies” in laboratory studies that break from rational choice predictions. For example, behavioral psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman famously claimed that people are susceptible to certain biases that make them more risk averse to gaining wealth (and more risk seeking in losing it) than the standard rational choice model would predict. Furthermore, they claimed that framing choices in different ways elicits inconsistent behavior. These ideas eventually coalesced into the field known as “behavioral economics” and have since made their way into public policy. An example of this is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which regulates consumer credit products, such as mortgages and credit cards, and consumer credit providers, such as banks, payday lenders, and cell phone providers. This agency was largely influenced by behavioral economics in setting its organizational mission and goals, such as protecting consumers from exploitation and manipulation by credit providers. Despite these behavioral-based foundations (or perhaps because of them, as I will explain below), the CFPB has been criticized from both sides of the political divide for its aggressive bureaucratic expansion and failure to adhere to its original congressional mandate. Furthermore, the actions of the agency have directly led to the significant reduction in volume of certain credit products (e.g., residential mortgages, auto loans) in a manner that calls into question whether the agency is helping or harming consumers. The purpose of this paper is to outline the impact of behavioral economics on public policy by examining its central influence on the CFPB. In particular, it explains how behavioral ideas have been converted into policies that fail to account for actual government practice, which has led to mixed results for consumers. While understanding just how people are susceptible to market influence is important, the premature application of behavioral economics to public policy risks undermining the goal of helping consumers.
Adam Thierer | Jul 12, 2016
Do citizens have the right to determine their own courses of treatment and to use medicines and devices that they believe could improve their health? In other words, do patients have a “right to try” medicines and devices that can help them?
Jerry Ellig | Jul 06, 2016
Executive Order 12866, which governs regulatory analysis and review in the executive branch, requires federal agencies to conduct a regulatory impact analysis (RIA) for all economically significant regulations. (An “economically significant” regulation has economic effects of at least $100 million annually or satisfies other criteria listed in the executive order.) The purpose of this analysis is to understand the problem the regulation aims to solve, identify alternative solutions, and assess the benefits and costs of the alternatives, in order to create regulations that solve real problems at a reasonable cost. In 2009, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University initiated the Regulatory Report Card project to assess how well executive branch agencies conduct regulatory analysis. In a new study for the Mercatus Center, senior research fellow Jerry Ellig uses the data from this project to examine the quality of RIAs for all economically significant, prescriptive regulations proposed between 2008 and 2013. Report Card evaluations reveal that regulatory agencies often adopt regulations that affect several hundred million Americans and impose billions of dollars of costs without knowing whether the regulation will solve a significant problem, whether a more effective solution exists, or whether a more targeted solution could achieve the same result for a lower cost. Extensive statistical analysis of the scores suggests that institutional reforms are the most promising means of improving the quality and use of regulatory analysis.
Jayson L. Lusk | Jun 24, 2016
Since its inception more than a century and a half ago, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has experienced enormous growth in both size and complexity—as has the industry it seeks to serve. Today the USDA is among the largest federal employers and its 2014 budget exceeded $160 billion. Its spectrum of activities span from the protection of rural farm interests to urban food assistance. Consequently, the department is the target of a wide range of interest groups besides farmers, including food assistance advocates and advocacy groups interested in issues such as obesity, animal welfare, food safety, the environment, and more. The disparate agendas of these groups make it difficult for Congress to assemble a unified policy package each time USDA’s programs are due for reauthorization. The latest reauthorization, the Agricultural Act of 2014, was signed into law two years late in February 2015. In a new study for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, economist Jayson L. Lusk documents the changes in American agriculture since the USDA’s inception and the expansion of the department’s mission. Much of the USDA’s regulation is outdated, wasteful, and conflicting.
Jerry Ellig, Michael Horney | Jun 21, 2016
When Congress passes legislation that mandates prescriptive regulations, legislators are under no obligation to understand the problem they are trying to solve, assess alternative solutions, or understand the benefits and costs of their choices. Passage of the positive train control mandate in response to several high-profile train accidents amply illustrates how haphazardly the legislative branch can authorize regulations. Congressional hearings and committee reports on the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 contain no analysis of the causes and extent of the safety problem, alternative solutions, and the benefits and costs of alternatives to this $12.5 billion mandate. Given that major regulations are often required by statute, the time has come for Congress to subject regulatory legislation to the same kind of analysis that presidents have required regulatory agencies to conduct for more than three decades.

Testimony & Comments

Patrick McLaughlin | Jul 07, 2016
Chairman Price, Ranking Member Van Hollen, and members of the committee: thank you for inviting me. As an economist and senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, my primary research focuses on the regulatory process—its strengths, its weaknesses, and proposals for improving it. One such proposal is the creation of a budget for regulations.
William Beach | Jul 06, 2016
The economic world changes most and for the good in economies where rivalrous economic behavior is allowed most to flourish, that is, in economies devoted to free enterprise. The flood of new economic knowledge that these swiftly changing economies produce generally results in higher-quality products for consumers at lower prices on average, as businesses compete with each other for the consumer’s dollars and strive to better serve consumer needs. Congress has no end to the number of things it has to do, as I experienced not long ago as a staffer. Near the top of its list of “to-dos” is the protection of this amazing process of value creation through innovation, discovery, and competition. We depend utterly on the private sector to produce nearly all of the material things we value. While the public sector is a necessary partner in this production through its provision of public goods (courts of justice, defense of the country, highways, and so forth), the betterment of the American people since 1900 is almost wholly the accomplishment of competition between entrepreneurs trying to obtain the consumer’s attention for their products or services.
Patrick McLaughlin | Jun 15, 2016
The Regulatory Studies Program of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University is dedicated to advancing knowledge about the impact of regulation on society. As part of its mission, the program conducts careful and independent analyses that employ contemporary economic scholarship to assess regulations and their effects on the economic opportunities and the social well-being available to all members of American society.
John D. Graham | May 24, 2016
My name is John D. Graham, Dean of the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs and former administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) of the Office of Management and Budget (2001–2006). In my capacity as editor of an article series organized by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and published in volume 37, issue 2 of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, I submit the attached articles as my written testimony for the Executive Overreach Task Force’s hearing on May 24, 2016, entitled “The Federal Government on Autopilot: Delegation of Regulatory Authority to an Unaccountable Bureaucracy.”…
Richard Williams, Michael L. Marlow, Edward Archer | Apr 12, 2016
The case examined here is the package of regulations that met the initial legal requirements provided by the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA, Public Law 101-535). This act gave the FDA the authority to require nutrition labeling of most foods regulated by the Agency and to require that all nutrient content claims (e.g., “high fiber” or “low fat”) and health claims be consistent with agency regulations.
Richard Williams | Mar 15, 2016
This small agency, established in 1980 by President Carter to “regulate the regulators” and to give “OMB final word on many of the regulations issued by our government,” has largely failed to achieve either goal. The myth persists that OIRA is a “little-known but extraordinarily powerful” agency that has been a “bottleneck” for protective regulations. The data, however, simply do not support this notion.

Research Summaries & Toolkits

Richard Williams | Jul 15, 2016
The US FDA receives funding through the general fund and user fees. Additional funding comes from the regulated industries. Specifically, the drug industry funds FDA through the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA), and the medical device industry funds FDA through the Medical Device User Fee Act (MDUFDA). Both acts are considered a success for requiring FDA to improve approval time for drugs and devices. However, decreased approval times have not resulted in more drug and device innovation.
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.
Liya Palagashvili | May 04, 2016
The Department of Labor has not done the analysis necessary to identify and understand the implications of overtime regulation within industrial sectors and across the economy as a whole. It instead ignores the ways employers and employees are likely to respond to incentives created by the regulation and how the regulation will likely prevent employers and employees from entering into certain types of employment arrangements that are becoming common in the information economy and are beneficial to both parties. It also does not provide an analysis of how the overtime regulations will impact our most dynamic sector, the tech start-up industry.
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.

Speeches & Presentations

Jerry Ellig | Jun 20, 2015
In June 2015, the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board issued a report with recommendations to update and modernize economic regulation of rail freight transportation. Jerry Ellig served as a member of the committee that prepared the report. This presentation, given to the National Industrial Transportation League’s Railroad Transportation Committee in November 2015, summarizes the report’s main recommendations.
Jerry Ellig | Mar 20, 2014
Jerry Ellig's presents arguments for improved regulatory impact analysis at the College of Charleston.
James Broughel | Jan 30, 2014
Members of the Science Advisory Board (SAB), thank you for taking the time to hear to my comments this morning. Today’s topic—how to measure the impact of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on low-income and minority citizens in the United States—is both timely and important. At the research center where I work, we have begun to explore the consequences of regulations on vulnerable populations. I appreciate the opportunity to share some of our findings and to contribute to this important discussion.
Keith Hall | Jun 14, 2013
Regulation can play an important role in a market economy where there are significant market externalities, incomplete markets, information asymmetries, or public goods. Ideally, regulation identifies and focuses on correcting these market failures with minimal economic cost.
Richard Williams | Jul 08, 2012
The United States system of ensuring food safety (FS) is more than 100 years old and, until very recently, was the primary system designed to ensure FS. The system assumes that primarily federal regulators have the necessary knowledge to instruct food manufacturers on producing safe food, with both federal and state governments enforcing their respective regulations. While there have been notable successes in the last century — such as mandatory pasteurization for milk and other products, low acid canned food rules, and basic sanitation requirements — much of this progress was achieved in the first half of the 20th century. In the last 30 years, the incidence of foodborne disease has changed very little.
Jerry Ellig | Jan 14, 2010
Jerry Ellig participated in panel discussion before Texas policy makers in Austin, Texas at the Texas Public Policy Foundation's Policy Orientation on the future of the Texas Public Utility…

Mercatus Regulatory Studies


While the relation between the log of agency employees and restrictions is strong (0.639 correlation, where 1.000 would be a perfect match), there are certainly agencies that buck this trend.


Richard Williams is the director of the Regulatory Studies Program and a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He is an expert in benefit-cost analysis and risk analysis, particularly associated with food safety and nutrition.
Patrick A. McLaughlin is a Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
Sherzod Abdukadirov is a research fellow in the Regulatory Studies Program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He specializes in the federal regulatory process, institutional reforms, food and health, and social complexity.
Jerry Ellig is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and a former assistant professor of economics at George Mason University. He specializes in the federal regulatory process, economic regulation, and telecommunications regulation.
James Broughel is a Research Fellow for the State and Local Policy Project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.


Richard Williams | June 28, 2016
Richard Williams, senior fellow at the Mercatus Institute and former director at the FDA, discusses how insane EU regulations turned Brits against Brussels, the long-term market impact of Brexit, and what comes next.

Recent Events

With millennials now making up the largest generation in the US workforce, studies have shown that they have different preferences on how to work and live.


Jerry Brito, Andrea Castillo | May 03, 2016
As the world’s first decentralized digital currency, Bitcoin has the potential to revolutionize online payment systems and commerce in ways that benefit both consumers and businesses. Individuals can now avoid using an intermediary such as PayPal or submitting credit card information to a third party for verification—both of which often involve transaction fees, restrictions, and security risks—and instead use bitcoins to pay each other directly for goods or services.

Media Clippings

Antony Davies | May 07, 2014
Antony Davies quoted at The Hill.
Eli Dourado | Feb 04, 2014
Eli Dourado cited at The Washington Post.
Matthew Mitchell | Oct 22, 2013
Matt Mitchell discusses "Uber Wars" on Reason TV.
Jerry Brito | Oct 03, 2013
Jerry Brito cited at The Wall Street Journal.
Jerry Brito | Oct 03, 2013
Jerry Brito cited at Los Angeles Times.
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