One of the main positive aspects of the United States Constitution is the separation of powers between 3 different branches of government. The reason the framers agreed on that form of government is to prevent the concentration of powers in one entity. All laws have to be approved by majorities of both the senate and the house along with the president or two-thirds supermajority in both chambers to override a presidential veto. The law making process has a lot of room for people to pressure their representatives and senators to vote for certain bills or against certain bills. There are many examples of bills that were defeated in congress because people pressured the congress to prevent them from passing such as the gun control bills that congress tried to pass in 2013.
The lawmaking process is not designed to be efficient. It is designed to make sure that as many inputs were taken into consideration as possible. It is designed to make both the president and congress responsible in front of the people for the laws they pass. It is designed to have every elected official take a public position by voting for or against any bill. It is designed to allow public discussion of the bills and enable the people to petition their representatives to express their opinions.
There is no guarantee that the laws passed by congress and signed by the president will be good laws or even be accepted by the people. That’s why there are regular elections that allow people to choose their representatives, senators, and the president.
Around the beginning of the twentieth century, as part of the progressive movement, some people started to demand more fast government decision-making to tackle what they deemed important issues such as the environment and safe food. These are the people who believe in the ability of the experts to plan the lives of the common people. These ideas gained traction in both major political parties and over the years we started powers shift from Congress to the executive branch or to independent unaccountable entities such as the federal reserve.
The congress started to pass laws to create executive branch agencies with delegated powers to create rules governing certain areas of the economy such as the Food and Drugs Administration which has powers over all foods and drugs in the country, the Environmental Protection Agency which has powers over the environment and most recently the Consumer Protection Agency which supposed to protect the consumers against everything it deems dangerous.
These agencies are run by political appointees and employ many self-appointed experts who use their opinions to form rules that should be followed by people and businesses. Congress has very limited powers in controlling the rules these agencies make. The process that these agencies use to write these rules is opaque and doesn’t allow any public debates. The bureaucrats who work in these agencies are all government employees who are not accountable to anyone. Special interests like these agencies because they could influence them over time to write rules favoring the established businesses and prevent market entry by new businesses in what is called Regulatory Capture.
The Presidents from both parties as well started issuing executive orders to direct the agencies they control to interpret the law in ways they favor. In many cases, the president would fail to convince congress to pass a certain bill so he would just issue an executive order to the executive branch agencies expanding the interpretation of the existing laws to incorporate elements of the failed bill he liked.
Unfortunately, the judiciary branch in many cases approves the unilateral expansion of existing laws by the president. Even the delegation of law-making powers to the executive in the form of the regulatory agencies was upheld by the courts.
As Friedrich A. Hayek explained in “The Road to Serfdom“, totalitarian governments don’t usually start by a group of thugs or soldiers taking power by force. Instead, they start by promising the people that they will improve their lives through the implementation of efficient government programs, they then explain the failure of these programs by the inefficiency of the democratic legislature and demand more powers to carry out the government plans. This process is repeated until the people lose all of their liberties and gain none of the promised benefits.
It’s not too late for the United States to stop the march towards totalitarian government. We still have many people who believe in liberty and they should stand together and elect people on both the federal and state level who believe in limited government and the value of liberty.