A Snapshot of Wisconsin Regulation in 2017

It would take an ordinary person more than three years to read the entire US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), which currently contains more than 112 million words. The sheer size of the CFR poses a problem not just for the individuals and businesses that want to stay in compliance with the law, but also for anyone interested in understanding the consequences of this massive system of rules.

States also have sizable regulatory codes, which add an additional layer to the enormous body of federal regulation. A prime example is the online version of the 2017 Wisconsin Administrative Code (WAC).

A tool known as State RegData—a platform for analyzing and quantifying state regulatory text—was developed by researchers at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. State RegData captures information in minutes that would take an ordinary person hours, weeks, or even years to obtain.

For example, the tool allows researchers to identify the industries that state regulation targets most by connecting text relevant to those industries with restrictive word counts. Known as regulatory restrictions, the words and phrases shall, must, may not, prohibited, and required can signify legal constraints and obligations. The three industries with the highest estimates of industry-relevant restrictions in the 2017 WAC are utilities, food manufacturing, and chemical manufacturing.

State RegData also reveals that the WAC contains 159,253 regulatory restrictions and roughly 12.0 million words. It would take an individual about 667 hours—or almost 17 weeks—to read the entire WAC. That’s assuming the reader spends 40 hours per week reading and reads at a rate of 300 words per minute.