Mercatus has graphed the number of ‘restrictions’ – defined as the number of restrictive clauses in regulations (such as ‘prohibited’, ‘must not’, ‘shall’) – against government agency budgets producing those regulations. The strong correlation below is both unfortunate and unsurprising:
Patrick McLaughlin and Oliver Sherouse describe their graph as follows:
These two lines – total agency restrictions and total agency budgets – move in the same direction. In fact, over the period for which we have data (from 1975 to 2014), the simple correlation between total of all regulatory restrictions and total of all agency budgets equals 0.91. (A correlation of 1 would indicate a perfect match.)
The scatterplot reveals more of the detail via agency through time:
It seems the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the clear winner, followed closely by the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Note that while the data above shows a correlation, it doesn’t quite answer a number of other questions about causation:
While the correlation between agency budgets and the levels of agency restrictions is clearly high, the question of whether one causes the other remains unanswered. If budgets are increased, does regulatory output correspondingly increase? Do budgets change in response to changes in regulatory output? Or is a third factor—such as new legislation directing agencies to regulate or deregulate—the driving force?
This means the safest bet is probably just to stop doing both.