Mississippi has more than 117,000 regulations on the books. It would take the average person 13 weeks to wade through the 9 million words of administrative code on record.

This data is from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. They have been combing through the data on regulations among the 50 states. For various reasons they were only able to get results from 46 states, but it does provide a picture of what everyone is doing. 

So what do we know? 

Virtually every state has a regulatory problem. The average state has 131,000 regulations, putting Mississippi slightly below the average. But the bigger you are, the more regulated you are.  

The most regulated state is California, which would come as a surprise to very few people. It has nearly 400,000 regulations. The other states in the top five are New York, Illinois, Ohio, and Texas.

South Dakota, Alaska, Montana, Idaho, and North Dakota are the least regulated. South Dakota had just 44,000 regulatory restrictions. Idaho, who is in the middle of a population boom, is the largest state among that group with about 1.7 million residents.

Why do we care?

Regulatory growth has a detrimental effect on economic growth. We now have a history of empirical data on the relationship between regulations and economic growth. A 2013 study in the Journal of Economic Growth estimates that federal regulations have slowed the U.S. growth rate by 2 percentage points a year, going back to 1949. 

A recent study by the Mercatus Center estimates that federal regulations have slowed growth by 0.8 percent since 1980. If we had imposed a cap on regulations in 1980, the economy would be $4 trillion larger, or about $13,000 per person. Real numbers, and real money, indeed. 

On the international side, researchers at the World Bank have estimated that countries with a lighter regulatory touch grow 2.3 percentage points faster than countries with the most burdensome regulations. And yet another study, this published by the Quarterly Journal of Economics, found that heavy regulation leads to more corruption, larger unofficial economies, and less competition, with no improvement in public or private goods. 

Mississippi’s regulatory burden, by agency

AgencyRegulations
Department of Health20,248
Department of Human Services12,530
State Boards, Commission, and Examiners10,204
Department of Environmental Quality9,158
Department of Mental Health6,006

There are actions a state can take to free their citizens of this burden. One of the most common reforms is the one-in-two-out rule where every time a new regulation is added to the books, two must be removed by that agency or department. Similarly, sunset provisions require the legislature to determine whether a regulation is necessary and if it should remain.

Currently, regulations are written in the code and stay on the books in perpetuity. That isn’t good.

Simply because Mississippi is closer to the middle (rather than being among the worst) does not mean the state should be comfortable with our regulatory burden. In a state in need of economic growth, rather, we should find a way to remove unnecessary barriers and inhibitors.