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President Donald Trump and his supporters like to point to the positive economic trends the United States experienced prior to the COVID pandemic. They argue that these positive conditions stemmed from the President’s policies, especially his emphasis on deregulation. But what has the Trump Administration really accomplished when it comes to deregulation? The answer is much less than the Administration has claimed—and much less than probably most members of the public would surmise. We compare the claims the Administration has made about its deregulatory accomplishments with what the evidence can sustain. Drawing on an original compilation of data on federal regulation from over the last four years, we find three new completed actions appear in agencies’ regulatory agendas for every one that is labeled deregulatory. When we look at just economically significant actions, even on assumptions favorable to the Administration, we find only one deregulatory action for every one action labeled as regulatory. Overall, we find that every claim we examine about the Trump Administration’s deregulatory efforts is either wrong or exaggerated. The reality is that the Trump Administration has done less deregulating than regulating, and its deregulatory actions have not achieved any demonstrable boost to the economy. The positive economic trends that the Administration likes to give deregulation credit for—such as increases in the gross domestic product (GDP) and decreases in unemployment—had their roots in policies predating the Administration. If anything, the pace of overall growth in GDP has actually slowed somewhat during the pre-COVID years of the Trump Administration relative to the last three years of the Obama Administration. The Trump Administration has not only exaggerated the positive effects of deregulation, it too often has ignored or downplayed its negative consequences. These adverse effects could be substantial. Although it is too early to assess the overall impact of the Trump Administration's deregulatory efforts, our research suggests that the Administration may have been more effective at deceiving the public about its achievements than in actually using deregulation to boost the economy.

Publication Citation

The Reg. Review, November 1, 2020