The new issue of the Claremont Review of Books has arrived, once again full of incisive essays and reviews attractively set off by the artistry of Elliott Banfield. As I have said once or twice before here, it’s my favorite magazine. You can subscribe here for the absurdly low price of $19.95 and get immediate online access thrown in to boot.
I spent last week poring over the new issue to pick out three pieces to preview for Power Line readers. As always, the issue is chock full of essays and reviews reflecting deep thought and learning. Unlike the hazard created by New York Times editorials, reading the issue will not kill brain cells. It will leave you smarter, or more knowledgeable, or both, than when you picked it up.
The issue’s lead essay is a deep dive into two of bedeviling problems of our modern government: the seemingly endless growth in government debt, and the ever-expanding grasp of the executive department (mainly through regulatory agencies). In “The Bucks Start Here” Christopher DeMuth, past president of the American Enterprise Institute, distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute, sketches “a unified field theory” linking the growth of government debt and the increase in size and scope of executive government. Their confluence, he argues, is no accident: “executive government and over-indebted government have arisen simultaneously as a result of rising affluence and technological mastery.”
Changes in transportation, communication, and information gathering have led to “a world where the slightest cause or interest can easily organize its own advocacy group, and where the greenest backbench legislator can easily set up shop as a policy entrepreneur. It is a world where the old hierarchies of political party and Congress have been swept aside.”
The resulting increase in the power of any individual congressman is offset by the great decrease in the institutional power of the legislative branch. The executive has not simply been unbound by the concomitant lack of congressional checks but in fact encouraged by Congress to take on legislative functions. Presidents are more likely to attempt “heroic exertions with gargantuan price tags” than the traditional penny-ante pork barrel items of Congress. And so the increase in debt and the increase in executive government go hand in hand. Please attend to DeMuth’s analysis in full to discover his proposed institutional solutions.