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The Future of the Administrative State

The Future of the Administrative State
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Dear Reader — 

A driving force behind the populism that came to define the 2016 election — and continues to bedevil the establishments of both parties — is a feeling of helplessness, the sentiment that Washington no longer works for ordinary Americans. Washington is perceived to be controlled by an entrenched elite against which our conventional elected officials are powerless. Whether accurate or not, this picture is alluring in a country founded on the proposition of self-governance.

Underlying this perception may be the reality that our elected officials have ceded more and more power to the so-called administrative state — those executive agencies, staffed by unelected officials, that formulate the rules and regulations that shape our industries and impact our daily lives. Of course, tension between the executive and the legislature is nothing new. But debates about executive power have become more urgent as the number and influence of executive agencies have grown. To the extent that today’s populism stems from a crisis of political representation, the future of the administrative state is key. 

Until recently, most critics of the administrative state focused on the economic impact of regulations, while defenders argued that the urgent and complex economic, environmental, and health problems we face demand a responsive bureaucracy staffed by experts. During the Obama administration, conservative commentators increasingly focused on the legal, constitutional, and philosophical question of the executive’s proper role; today, President Trump's critics have likewise clued into the importance of defining the boundaries of presidential power. To complicate matters, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon has listed the “deconstruction” of the administrative state as a primary goal of the Trump administration. 

What, exactly, is the administrative state? Where and how does it fit into our political system? Is it necessary or harmful in modern political life? How does support for or skepticism of administrative power map onto our current political divisions? What will happen to the administrative state in our populist era? This is the topic of our new podcast, “The Future of the Administrative State,” which explores the virtues and vices of administrative power at a time when both Right and Left fear a growing executive branch.  

In the first episode, “Deconstructing the Administrative State,” Adam J. White of the Hoover Institution breaks down the meaning of the administrative state and how it functions, touching on the underlying constitutional issues, the Obama administration’s use of executive actions, and what we might expect from President Trump. Stay tuned for future episodes.  

These are some of the many issues taken up at RealClearPolicy over the past week. Below you will find just a few highlights.

— M. Anthony Mills, editor | RealClearPolicy


The End of Liberalism. In The Boston Globe, Samuel Bowles argues that “active support of the less well-off” is “essential to the defense and deepening of liberal freedoms.”

Will the GOP Health-Care Bill Make Us More Free? For the Los Angeles Times, Nicholas Bagley contends the Republican repeal-and-replace bill will only help the right.

The Looming Labor “Shortage” Is an Opportunity. The Washington Post’s Robert J. Samuelson suggests there is a silver lining to today’s economic dislocations.

What Pro-Life Democrats Want from the DNC. Also in The Atlantic, Clare Foran examines the attempt by pro-life Democrats to “alter” the party’s pro-choice platform.

The Conservative Case for Unions. The Atlantic’s Jonathan Rauch urges the Right to “reconsider its decades-long war on unions.”

Envisioning a Constitutional Restoration. In National Affairs, Richard Reinsch considers what it would take to revive constitutionalism.

The Missing Key to “Market-Based” Health Reform. In our own pages, Clark Havighurst outlines a plan for GOP lawmakers.

Navajo Nation Infrastructure Should Be a Priority. Also in our pages, Russell Begaye urges the Trump administration to include the Navajo Nation in its infrastructure plans.

The War on Work - and How to End It. In City Journal, Edward L. Glaeser proposes an “agenda to address joblessness,” which he calls the “great American domestic crisis” of our century.

How Data Sharing Can Improve Poverty Programs. Also in RealClearPolicy, Robert Doar asserts that data sharing between state agencies and the Census Bureau is vital for evidence-based policy.

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