RealClearPolicy Newsletters: Original Articles

Reclaiming Self-Government

Reclaiming Self-Government
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Dear Reader — 

How can a government be prevented from falling into tyranny? The question is ancient. Our modern republic answers it by securing the people’s rights against federal power. Thus the Constitution imposes limits on the federal government, chief among which is the separation of powers, preventing the executive from arrogating to itself the power of creating, interpreting, and enforcing — in addition to executing — laws. No surprise that fears over executive overreach date back to our country’s earliest days and remain with us today.

During the Bush years, liberals criticized the expansion of executive power under the auspices of national security; conservatives homed in on President Obama’s use of executive agencies to enact domestic policy. Today, conservatives and progressives alike fear the consequences of an expanded executive under President Trump. Meanwhile, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon has said that one of the primary goals of the administration is the “deconstruction” of the administrative state — the president’s most effective tool for exercising power in domestic affairs.

What, exactly, is the administrative state? Where did it come from? What is the proper balance between legislative, executive, and judicial powers? And how might our current system be reformed so as to make it work more effectively? Such are the topics of our podcast “The Future of the Administrative State,” in which we sit down with six leading authorities from across the political spectrum to discuss the nature of administrative power and what it means in the Trump era.

There is little reason to think the underlying philosophical disagreements exemplified by these diverse scholars will be resolved. Indeed, disagreements about the size and scope of the federal government — and the executive in particular — have animated our politics since our country’s violent birth. This makes the many points of convergence among their perspectives all the more striking.

There appears to be something of a consensus on at least three levels. First, our federal government does not function as well as it should — and the administrative state is a significant part of the reason why. In particular, there is insufficient and ineffective oversight of administrative agencies. Second, this state of affairs is at least in part the fault of Congress, which has weakened its own power over the decades. Third, there is no simple legislative, administrative, or judicial cure for what ails our government. The solution to our political dysfunction must begin, as Nicholas Bagley puts it, “with the ballot box” and the representative branches of government. 

So while we may disagree about the proper role of the executive, we may nevertheless agree about the need to reinvigorate the mechanisms and institutions of self-governance. But to salvage self-government requires cultivating the virtues of self-governance — no small task. Perhaps John Marini is right that Trump, whatever we may think of him, has provided something of a wake-up call for our citizenry, highlighting the stakes of the administrative state and the precarious nature of our founders political achievement.

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

— M. Anthony Mills, editor | RealClearPolicy


Will Fewer Immigrants Mean More Jobs? In The New York Times, Binyamin Appelbaum looks at the evidence for whether there is a “connection between less immigration and more jobs for Americans.”

Newspapers Don’t Need Anti-Trust Immunity. In our own pages, Thomas M. Lenard criticizes a new proposal to allow newspapers to “bargain collectively with dominant online platforms” like Facebook and Google. 

The Wrong Way to Fight Inequality. In The New Republic, Rachel M. Cohen takes issue with a new book that claims today’s worst economic divide is between the upper-middle class and the rest of the country. 

Let’s Save the Internet — Permanently. Also in our pages, Jonathan Spalter argues that legislation is needed to make net neutrality last.

In Defense of “Dark Money.” For The American Prospect, Nan Aron & Abby Levine defend the importance of “social welfare nonprofits” in advancing progressive goals.

Our Debt Crisis Calls for a New Fiscal Paradigm. In RealClearPolicy, John Merrifield and Barry Poulson contend that Keynesian fiscal policies are neither economically nor politically sustainable.

When the Political Branches Clash. In Library of Law & Liberty, Greg Weiner suggests that despite apparent dysfunction in our government, “we may be witnessing…the separation of powers in our time.” 

Do Electric Vehicles Spell OPEC's Doom? Also in RealClearPolicy, Mark P. Mills argues that the “arrival of the digital oilfield” will disrupt the industry far more than Tesla and its competitors. 

A Bipartisan Approach to Health Care. Joseph Antos and James C. Capretta make their case in Health Affairs

Want to Save Species? Fix the Endangered Species Act. Also in our pages, Josh T. Smith suggests that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service can be more effective even without demanding more funds.

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