Philip A. Wallach

Philip A. Wallach is a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution.

Congress’s Constitution – If They Can Keep It

USA

Our Constitution makes Congress the first branch of government, but the Capitol is today regarded almost as a house of ill-repute, both for the character of its members (not necessarily ours, but theirs) and its general contribution (or lack thereof) to the national well-being.  As a legislature, its primary means of asserting itself must be to pass legislation, but it has become infamously inept in that work in this age of severe polarization and powerful interest groups happy to block changes to a status quo they find lucrative.  Given the apparent permanency of these underlying factors, many observers now see the waning of Congress’s importance as both inevitable and unequivocally desirable.

Read More

Wishing for a Goat, Not a Hero

Adam White’s Liberty Forum essay offers 10 ways for our 45th President to promote the rule of law, many of which I find appealing. But I fear he could offer a thousand such ideas without much effect, and in the end he concedes that he, too, doubts that Presidents will restrain themselves or their governments for the sake of anything so abstract as constitutional principle. His conclusion: We must ultimately look to Congress to rein in the other political branch, and our hopes will only be realized if and when “the people themselves” (and especially those in the President’s party)…

Read More

More Responses

Understanding Why and How the Obama Administration Has Flouted the Rule of Law

It is very difficult to take issue with the pessimistic tone of Adam White’s sensible advice to the next President on 10 ways to promote the rule of law. All of the topics that he mentions are understood as serious, systemic weaknesses. When it comes to administrative law, President Obama has a penchant for excessive…

Read More

Coherence in the Executive

I can only applaud the excellent “to do list” in Adam White’s Liberty Forum essay, even as I scan the absentee ballot that I received in September wondering whether any of the leading candidates would have the good sense to give the list the attention it deserves. But we are giving advice here, not forecasting…

Read More

A (Long) Path to Reforming Our Administrative State

When Law and Liberty invited me to write on 10 things that a new president could do to promote the rule of law, I was struck by how counterintuitive the question was. After years upon years of debate over presidents pushing the boundaries of the constitutional powers (and not just during the most recent administration,…

Read More

Rise of the Libertarian Technocrats

technocrate

Jason Brennan’s provocative new book, Against Democracy, divides people into three groups based on their orientation to politics: “Hobbits,” who are apathetic and ignorant; “Hooligans,” who are engaged but hopelessly biased, convinced that fans of other political teams are “stupid, evil, selfish, or at best, deeply misguided”; and “Vulcans,” who “think scientifically and rationally about politics” and whose “opinions are strongly grounded in social science and philosophy.”

Read More

Government Decoherence and Its Discontents – Wallach Responds to His Critics

What is required to maintain complex national policies and adjust them to the realities of a changing world—and to do so in a way that produces legitimate policies?  However we answer this, is our current institutional matrix up to the task? My suggestion of the term “decoherence” to organize thinking about these questions implies answers to both of these questions.  To the first, periodic legislative attention to policies, intended to produce some degree of coherence, is strictly necessary to produce policies that are workable and legitimate.  To the second, I believe our system previously worked to produce policy coherence to a…

Read More

More Responses

Decoherence . . . Or Incoherence?

Philip Wallach proposes the addition of a new term to our analysis of regulatory jargon—regulatory “decoherence.” I have no inherent objection to coining a new term: jargon can illuminate or obscure. In this case, however, Wallach has coined a new term when a perfectly valid old term would do—the problem with government regulatory policy is not…

Read More

Adhocracy or Capture?

A prime example of the “adhocracy” that Philip Wallach refers to in his Liberty Forum essay is presented in his book To the Edge. He there describes as “adhocracy” the response to the 2008 financial crisis by the Bush and Obama administrations. For Wallach, the government’s actions amounted to “adhocracy” because they were “an unpredictable…

Read More

Government Decoherence and Its Discontents

Confused way of a businessman

If scholars of American government are like blind men trying to describe our ever-evolving elephant, what is most striking about scholarship in recent years is how many of us, making very different approaches to our subject matter, have been grasping for similar descriptors. Caesarism. Government by Deal. Government by Waiver. Kludgeocracy. Lawless law. In my own recent book: adhocracy. It would be wrong to suggest that these are merely different names for exactly the same underlying phenomenon. Those groping around the presidential head feel different textures than those who approach from the welfare state flanks or the regulatory rear. But there is…

Read More

Responses

Decoherence . . . Or Incoherence?

Philip Wallach proposes the addition of a new term to our analysis of regulatory jargon—regulatory “decoherence.” I have no inherent objection to coining a new term: jargon can illuminate or obscure. In this case, however, Wallach has coined a new term when a perfectly valid old term would do—the problem with government regulatory policy is not…

Read More

Adhocracy or Capture?

A prime example of the “adhocracy” that Philip Wallach refers to in his Liberty Forum essay is presented in his book To the Edge. He there describes as “adhocracy” the response to the 2008 financial crisis by the Bush and Obama administrations. For Wallach, the government’s actions amounted to “adhocracy” because they were “an unpredictable…

Read More

Government Decoherence and Its Discontents – Wallach Responds to His Critics

What is required to maintain complex national policies and adjust them to the realities of a changing world—and to do so in a way that produces legitimate policies?  However we answer this, is our current institutional matrix up to the task? My suggestion of the term “decoherence” to organize thinking about these questions implies answers to…

Read More

The Adhoc-racy and the Rule of Law in the 2008 Financial Crisis

Paulson, Bernanke, And FDIC Chairman Make Statement On Financial Markets

When surveying the vast wreckage of the 2008 financial crisis, many classical liberals worry that the most profound damage done was to the rule of law in America.  Though it is difficult to pin down the concept with great precision, the core of the rule of law is simple: we have a government of laws, not men.  Our officials must follow rules that have been publicly and clearly set forth in advance rather than acting on their own caprice, and they are not welcome to simply make up rules as they go along and declare their conduct lawful in retrospect.  Without adherence to this precept, government’s actions can have no basis for legitimacy.

If we closely scrutinize what the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve, and other agencies of the federal government did in response to the recent financial crisis, there is no avoiding that they made a mockery of the rule of law.  Indeed, as Lawrence H. White puts it, “The approach of Federal Reserve and Treasury officials during this crisis, unfortunately, has been to consider every possible remedy but applying the rule of law.”

Read More