Deregulation? The Federal Register’s size

Following up on my post entitled “When was the financial sector deregulated?”

register1991Another crude measure of regulation or deregulation is to count the number of pages in the U.S. Federal Register. The Federal Register is the government’s daily publication of new and proposed rules. Some of the rules are trivial and some have large impact; some are proposed and some are final; some are clarifications and some are new. But cumulatively the Register‘s increasing or decreasing bulk tells us something about regulatory trends.

For the last generation, here are the Federal Register‘s total page counts for selected years:

1980s: 52,992 pages per year average.
1990s: 62,237 pages per year average.
2005: 73,870 pages.
2010: 81,405 pages.

(Side note: This year alone, the Register has published about 590 items related to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.)

Question: Does anyone know of a Register page count by economic sector? For example, have number of pages devoted to regulating the Finance and Banking sector increased or decreased over that time?

Of course, page-measurement is a very crude indicator. It doesn’t tell us whether particular rules were good or bad, and it doesn’t tell us whether the overall effect of the rules was positive or negative. So we also have to discuss at least two other follow-up pro-regulation arguments:

1. “Magic Bullet” explanations of the financial crisis: Yes, government regulation increased overall–but if only government regulators hadn’t altered Regulation #355,017, the financial crisis would have been avoided. Or: If only the regulators had also enacted Regulation #4,854,229, the crisis wouldn’t have happened.

2. “Relative-Size Inadequacy” arguments: Yes, regulation increased, but the size of the financial sector increased at a higher rate, so under-regulation was the cause of the crisis.

And the deeper, underlying pro-regulation argument that:

3. Left to themselves, financial markets are predatory and incapable of self-regulation, so top-down government regulation is necessary.

Clyde Wayne Crews. Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State. Cato Institute, 2002.
Clyde Wayne Crews, Jr. Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State. Competitive Enterprise Institute, 2006.
The 2010 page count: Politifact Virginia.
Federal Register: The Daily Journal of the United States Government.

Related: My essay, “Defending Shylock: Productive Work in Financial Markets.”
What is the US economy? Introduction.

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