Mississippi restaurant owners who would like to allow dogs on their outside patios are now allowed to do so. 

That is because of a Mississippi Department of Health rule change. 

“MSDH wants to support local businesses in their efforts to best accommodate their clientele. We’ve looked at other southern states – including Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina – and have modeled our policy after theirs,” Jim Craig, MSDH Senior Deputy and Director of Health Protection, said in a news release that was reported by the Clarion Ledger. “We assessed the health risks and identified the types of outdoor dining settings that would present low, minimal or no risk to the public.” 

Earlier this year, the Clarion Ledger ran a story on pet-friendly restaurants in the Jackson metro area. The Mississippi Department of Health fired back saying that is illegal and that Mississippi code prohibits pets in restaurants, even outdoor areas.

MDH cited the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Code model, which is housed in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for the prohibition. That model recommends prohibiting animals in food service establishments, save for service dogs. 

The state didn’t have to follow the FDA model. Indeed, many states had already legalized dogs in restaurants before Mississippi. These laws generally do two things. They often allow local governments to enact ordinances if they would like and they allow restaurants to choose whether they would like to welcome dogs on their property. 

And with that, consumers can choose to bring their dog to a pet-friendly establishment, just as those who don’t like dogs can opt to go somewhere else. And the owner of the restaurant can decide what is better for his or her business. 

What path a restaurant chooses isn’t as important as the restaurant having the ability to choose. But the now repealed prohibition on dogs in restaurants is just one of the more than 117,000 restrictions in the state’s regulatory code.  

The biggest regulator in the state? As you would imagine, the same Department of Health that previously went after dogs in restaurants. 

And why does this matter?

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. 

A prescription for lowering the regulatory burden on a state is the one-in-two-out rule, or a regulatory cap. In 2017, one of President Donald Trump’s first executive orders was to require at least two prior regulations to be identified for elimination for every new regulation issued. This is badly needed. We have gone from 400,000 federal regulations in 1970 to over 1.1 million today. 

Many years ago, British Columbia took on a similar mission. And in less than two decades, their regulatory requirements have decreased by 48 percent. The result has been an economic revival for the Canadian province. 

Whether it’s a sunset provision, where regulations expire and must be reauthorized after a period of time, or one-in-two-out policy, Mississippi should move in the direction toward a smaller regulatory state with more freedom. And if a regulation is truly important to our well-being, let the regulators prove why.

A decision by the state to allow dogs in restaurants is a positive step but it won’t change the trajectory of the state’s economy, for better or worse. Rather, we need a deep dive into the unnecessary and outdated regulations of each agency with a goal of removing unnecessary barriers and inhibitors to economic growth.