According to a study, wading through Mississippi’s morass of regulations would take 13 weeks to absorb its 9.3 million words and 117,558 restrictions.

Even with 40-hour workweeks and some breaks, that’s not exactly light reading.

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University’s James Broughel and Jonathan Nelson wrote a policy snapshot of Mississippi’s regulatory state as part of a national project to analyze regulatory burdens nationwide.

“We’ve really been pleasantly surprised with all of the interest by state policymakers and state think tanks in finally having some numbers they can apply to regulations on the books,” Broughel said. “There wasn’t any knowledge of how much regulation was in place, so this is one of the first times we’ve cast light on that.”

These regulations can impose huge costs as businesses are forced to comply with them and can also become anticompetitive devices, since many of them are written by the industries that are being regulated.

The two economists used an interesting methodology to study Mississippi and 32 other states so far, with the goal of all preforming an analysis for each of 50 states.

The Mercatus duo downloaded all of the state’s regulations and used a platform called State RegData designed by Mercatus economist Patrick McLaughlin to mine the data by reading and counting it faster than any human reader could.

This tool allows researchers to identify the most-regulated industries by using what are known as restrictive word counts such as shall, must, may not, prohibited and required. In terms of government subdivisions, the biggest regulator, by far, is the Department of Health, with more than 20,000 regulations. That is followed by the Department of Human Services with over 12,000 regulations, and 10,000 plus regulations for state boards, commissions, and examiners.

The most regulated industries in Mississippi in terms of restrictions are:

  • Ambulatory healthcare services – 12,981.
  • Administrative and support services – 5,513.
  • Mining (except oil and gas) – 3,138.
  • Hospitals – 2,381.
  • Social assistance – 2,306.

Broughel said that Mississippi is roughly mid-pack in the amount of its regulatory framework.  Some states such as New York have a lot more regulations. It would take 31 weeks to read all 22.5 million words in the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations, which has 307,636 restrictions.

The time that it takes to read Mississippi’s regulations is dwarfed by the three years it’d take to read the 112 million words in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. Sixty-eight percent of those regulations, Broughel said, have never been amended, which means they’ve never been re-evaluated for relevancy or economic impact.

This number highlights a problem with regulations at both the national and state level.

British Columbia’s government has enacted a law that forces provincial regulatory bodies to eliminate two rules for every rule they write and Broughel said that’s one way for governments to get a handle on regulations that have outgrown their effectiveness. He said states should also consider limiting the total amount of regulations that can be in effect at one time.

Ultimately, states need to figure out how to reduce the regulatory burden to help boost economic growth.

“What we see in Washington and across the states is that we don’t have very good procedures for reviewing regulations,” Broughel said. “The states have administrative procedure acts, the federal government has an administrative procedure act that created procedures for creating regulations.

“But we don’t have very good procedures for reviewing regulations or moving regulations or measuring the effectiveness of regulations. At some point, having more rules becomes counter-productive and it becomes impossible to comply.”