The Cumulative Cost of Regulations

The impact of regulation on economic growth has been widely studied, but most research has focused on a narrow set of regulations, industries, or both. These studies typically rely on regulatory indexes that measure subsets of all regulation, on country-to-country comparisons, on short time spans, or on surveys in which experts report how regulated they believe their country or industry is. In order to better understand the cumulative cost of regulation, a comprehensive look at all regulations across many industries over a long period of time is imperative.

A new study for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University uses an economic model that examines regulation’s effect on firms’ investment choices. Using a 22-industry dataset that covers 1977 through 2012, the study finds that regulation—by distorting the investment choices that lead to innovation—has created a considerable drag on the economy, amounting to an average reduction in the annual growth rate of the US gross domestic product (GDP) of 0.8 percent.


Federal regulations have accumulated over many decades, piling up over time. When regulators add more rules to the pile, analysts often consider the likely benefits and compliance costs of the additional rules.

But regulations have a greater effect on the economy than analysis of a single rule in isolation can convey. The buildup of regulations over time leads to duplicative, obsolete, conflicting, and even contradictory rules, and the multiplicity of regulatory constraints complicates and distorts the decision-making processes of firms operating in the economy. Firms respond to both individual regulations and regulatory accumulation by altering their plans for research and development, for expansion, and for updating equipment and processes. Because of the important role innovation and productivity growth play in an economy, these distortions have consequences for the growth of the economy in the long run.

Read Study
Research & Studies