Why We Need to Measure Regulation

From: RegBlog | Penn Program on Regulation


How much should governments regulate? Economists attach huge significance to this question because the difference between rich and poor countries can be affected by variation in government quality, especially the extent to which the legal system protects property and encourages innovation and investment. But answering this question has been difficult due to limitations both in economic theory and available data. We have created a new dataset that can help overcome the limits in available data.


As we noted at the outset, the inability to quantify regulation in numerical terms has limited researchers’ ability to generalize about regulation. This is where a new dataset we developed, RegData, can help. RegData is an attempt to loosen the
ties that bind regulatory scholars. It is the first database that provides users with an industry-level panel of U.S. federal regulation, turning regulation from a non-ordinal, categorical variable into a numerical one. RegData, which currently covers the period 1997-2012, is produced using custom-made text analysis software to measure, in numerical terms, how restrictive federal regulations are and which industries regulations are most likely to affect. Through RegData analyses, for example, researchers will now be able to compare the level of regulation in U.S. fishing in 2001 to the level of regulation in U.S. fishing in 2009.

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