Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute explores the implications of the growth of centralized government led by unaccountable federal administrative agencies.

Modern conservatism is closely linked to decentralization. Free markets are by definition decentralized markets, and the extraordinary growth of the United States economy over the last 200 years is a testament to the creative power of individuals when they are free to respond to market demands.

Also important to modern conservatism is the decentralization of government itself, allowing decisions to be made close to the communities they affect, while also encouraging policy competition and experimentation.

Both these forms of decentralization, however, are now increasingly challenged by federal administrative agencies, which are a growing force for the suppression of diversity among individuals, businesses, and state and local governments. Although the Constitution places the federal legislative power in Congress, it is now increasingly — and alarmingly — flowing to administrative agencies that, unlike Congress, are not directly accountable to the public affected by their decisions.

Unless we can find a solution to this problem—a way to curb and cabin the discretionary power of administrative agencies —decentralization and individual self-determination will eventually be brought to an end. The diversity of our society and the innovativeness of the U.S. economy will gradually come under the pervasive control of a vast bureaucracy, and an essential element of American exceptionalism will be irretrievably lost. …

… [I]n recent years — and particularly during the Obama administration— there have been many examples of members of the House and Senate sacrificing the institution in which they serve to partisan interests. Allowing the president to determine for himself when the Senate is in recess, abandoning the need for 60 votes to take up a presidential nomination, refusing to pass a budget for four years so as to protect vulnerable Democratic senators, and standing quietly by as a president stated he would not enforce existing immigration laws, are only some examples of partisanship overriding institutional interests. If this continues into another presidential administration, the precedents thus set will be difficult for any future Congress to overcome.

This kind of partisanship has been a major factor in the growth of the administrative state. Congressional majorities in both houses may be more willing to give substantial executive latitude to a president of the same party, and once these laws are on the books it becomes very difficult to roll them back legislatively. Private parties also take actions and make investments based on these laws, and thereafter resist reforms.