Created in 1887, the Interstate Commerce Commission was the first “independent agency” outside of the president’s control that had the combined powers of all three branches of government. Independent agencies proliferated during the New Deal era, the golden age for this so-called fourth branch of government.
The formation of independent agencies was based on an idealistic view of bureaucracy: shielded from shifting political winds, a small group of technically-skilled experts could address technical issues. Economic and engineering analyses would guide independent agency decisions. However, the 21st-century reality is that federal “independent agencies” are neither independent of the executive nor guided by economic and engineering principles. Instead, independent agencies have become useful appendages of the executive branch, and economic and engineering concepts are largely silenced.
On Wednesday, June 22, former FTC Commissioner Joshua Wright joined Hudson Institute’s Director of the Center for the Economics of the Internet, Harold Furchtgott-Roth, to discuss the institutional problems of the modern administrative state and solutions for promoting economic analysis in public policy.