Jerry Ellig on Dynamic Competition and Rational Regulation

In the United States, the express purpose of regulation is, according to a 1993 executive order, to “protect or improve the health and safety of the public, the environment, or the well-being of the American people.” However well intentioned, all human action carries with it the potential for secondary, sometimes negative, consequences. In the case of regulation, these consequences may cause harm—by exacerbating poverty, increasing opportunity inequality, raising prices, or reducing economic growth.

The late Jerry Ellig—economist, teacher, writer—argued that before imposing regulations on individuals and their activities, policymakers must conduct the kind of economic analysis that can deliver rational regulation. This process requires asking: How significant is the problem the regulation seeks to address? What is the root cause of the problem? Are there alternative ways to address the cause, and how effective might they be? What are the benefits and costs to society of each alternative?

These are the questions Ellig sought to answer—whether conducting research at the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center, serving as chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission, delivering testimony at a congressional hearing, or teaching students at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. As this memorial collection shows, improvements in the regulatory process can foster the life-enhancing innovation and dynamic competition on which future prosperity depends.

About the Author

In his academic research, Jerry Ellig (1962–2021) focused on regulatory impact analysis, regulation of network industries, and performance management in government. But to ensure his work would make a difference in people’s lives, he never forgot the need for a “bridge” connecting the academy and the policy world. It was one he traversed, back and forth, throughout his career.

An assistant professor of economics at George Mason University between 1989 and 1995, Ellig served as a senior economist for the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress (1995–96) before returning to Mason to join the university’s Mercatus Center as a senior research fellow. Between 2001 and 2003 Ellig was deputy director and acting director of the Office of Policy and Planning at the Federal Trade Commission, after which he again returned to Mercatus and to a position as adjunct professor in Mason’s School of Law (2005–08). In 2017 Ellig became chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission and a year later joined the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center as a research professor.

Ellig received his BA in economics from Xavier University and his MA and PhD in economics from Mason. He passed away suddenly in January 2021, leaving behind him his wife of 28 years, Sandy Chiong, and their daughter, Katherine.

You can read more about Jerry here.

Contributor Bios

Susan E. Dudley is Director of the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center and Distinguished Professor of Practice in GW’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration. She is a senior fellow with the Administrative Conference of the United States, a past president of the Society for Benefit Cost Analysis, a National Academy of Public Administration fellow, and chair of the Federalist Society’s Regulatory Transparency Project regulatory process working group. Her research is widely published in academic journals and the popular media.

Before founding the GW Regulatory Studies Center, she served as the presidentially appointed Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs from 2007 to 2009, directed the Regulatory Studies Program at the Mercatus Center, and taught courses on regulation at the George Mason University School of Law.

She first met Jerry in 1998, when she joined the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Patrick A. McLaughlin is the Director of Policy Analytics and a Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. His research focuses primarily on regulations and the regulatory process. His research and op-eds have been featured in a wide range of media outlets including The Economist, C-SPAN, WSJ, Politico, and The Hill.

McLaughlin created and leads the RegData and QuantGov projects, deploying machine learning and other tools of data science to quantify governance indicators found in federal and state regulations and other policy documents. The resulting database is freely available at

Before joining Mercatus, McLaughlin served as a Senior Economist at the Federal Railroad Administration in the United States Department of Transportation and as a Visiting Scholar at the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from Clemson University.

Patrick first met Jerry in 2008, when Patrick interviewed for a position at Mercatus. Jerry was a big reason that Patrick accepted Mercatus’s offer.

Bruce Yandle is the Dean Emeritus of the College of Business and Behavioral Science and Alumni Professor of Economics Emeritus at Clemson University. He is also a Distinguished Adjunct Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. His most recent book is Bootleggers and Baptists: How Economic Forces and Moral Persuasion Interact to Shape Regulatory Politics, coauthored with economist Adam Smith.