The Structure and Complexity of the United States Code

Mike and I have been working on a paper we hope to soon post to the SSRN entitled ” The Structure and Complexity of the United States Code.”  Yesterday, we presented a pre-alpha version of the paper in the Michigan Center for Political Studies Workshop For those who might be interested, the abstract for the working abstract for the paper is below. If you are interested in accessing documentation for the above visualization please click here.

“The United States Code is the substantively important body of information that collectively constitutes the federal statutory law of the United States.  The Code is a complied hierarchical document organized into fifty substantive titles including Bankruptcy (Title 11), Judiciary and Judicial Procedure (Title 28), Public Health, and Welfare (Title 42) and Tax (Title 26).  In addition to its hierarchical organization, the Code contains an extensive citation network where cross-references connect its provisions in a variety of novel manners.

Claims regarding complexity of the Code, in particular the Internal Revenue Code, are consistently part of the public discourse. Undoubtedly, the Code is complicated. However, quantifying its complexity is a far more difficult proposition.  While there have been some initial attempts to identify the size of certain pieces of the Code, few comprehensive or comparative investigations of the entire United States Code have been undertaken.

In this article, we ask how complex is the United States Code and in comparative terms which titles are the most and least complex? Employing a wide variety of approaches including techniques drawn from information theory, computer science, linguistics and applied graph theory, we develop and apply a series of distinct measures for the structural and linguistic complexity of the Code.  After developing these discrete approaches, we generate a composite measure and use it to comparatively score each of the Code’s titles. While we recognize other composite measures for size and complexity could legitimately be offered, we believe our interdisciplinary approach represents a significant advance and provides much needed rigor to questions of code complexity.”

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