Measuring the Temperature and Diversity of the U.S. Regulatory Ecosystem (Preprint on arXiv + SSRN)

From the Abstract:  Over the last 23 years, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has required over 34,000 companies to file over 165,000 annual reports. These reports, the so-called “Form 10-Ks,” contain a characterization of a company’s financial performance and its risks, including the regulatory environment in which a company operates. In this paper, we analyze over 4.5 million references to U.S. Federal Acts and Agencies contained within these reports to build a mean-field measurement of temperature and diversity in this regulatory ecosystem. While individuals across the political, economic, and academic world frequently refer to trends in this regulatory ecosystem, there has been far less attention paid to supporting such claims with large-scale, longitudinal data. In this paper, we document an increase in the regulatory energy per filing, i.e., a warming “temperature.” We also find that the diversity of the regulatory ecosystem has been increasing over the past two decades, as measured by the dimensionality of the regulatory space and distance between the “regulatory bitstrings” of companies. This measurement framework and its ongoing application contribute an important step towards improving academic and policy discussions around legal complexity and the regulation of large-scale human techno-social systems.

Available in PrePrint on SSRN and on the Physics arXiv.

Measuring the Complexity of the Law: The United States Code ( Slides by Daniel Martin Katz & Michael J. Bommarito II )

Measuring the Complexity of the Law: The United States Code (By Daniel Martin Katz & Michael J. Bommarito)

From our abstract:  “Einstein’s razor, a corollary of Ockham’s razor, is often paraphrased as follows: make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.  This rule of thumb describes the challenge that designers of a legal system face—to craft simple laws that produce desired ends, but not to pursue simplicity so far as to undermine those ends.  Complexity, simplicity’s inverse, taxes cognition and increases the likelihood of suboptimal decisions.  In addition, unnecessary legal complexity can drive a misallocation of human capital toward comprehending and complying with legal rules and away from other productive ends.

While many scholars have offered descriptive accounts or theoretical models of legal complexity, empirical research to date has been limited to simple measures of size, such as the number of pages in a bill.  No extant research rigorously applies a meaningful model to real data.  As a consequence, we have no reliable means to determine whether a new bill, regulation, order, or precedent substantially effects legal complexity.

In this paper, we address this need by developing a proposed empirical framework for measuring relative legal complexity.  This framework is based on “knowledge acquisition,” an approach at the intersection of psychology and computer science, which can take into account the structure, language, and interdependence of law. We then demonstrate the descriptive value of this framework by applying it to the U.S. Code’s Titles, scoring and ranking them by their relative complexity.  Our framework is flexible, intuitive, and transparent, and we offer this approach as a first step in developing a practical methodology for assessing legal complexity.”

This is a draft version so we invite your comments (katzd@law.msu.edu) and (michael.bommarito@gmail.com).  Also, for those who might be interested – we are building out a full replication page for the paper.  In the meantime, all of the relevant code and data can be accessed at GitHub and from the Cornell Legal Information Institute.

UPDATE: Paper was named “Download of the Week” by Legal Theory Blog.