Today’s front-burner domestic policy debates reflect three fundamental changes in American government that have been in train for several decades and have accelerated dramatically in recent years:

  • The decline of Congress as a representative legislature, and the assumption of broad lawmaking powers by the Executive Branch (both the President and the numerous administrative and regulatory agencies) and Federal Reserve.
  • Routine deficit spending and growing government debt, accompanied by government promotion of private borrowing for such things as home mortgages and college tuition.
  • The shift of federal spending from traditional public goods (e.g., national defense, courts, and transportation infrastructure) to transfer payments to individuals (e.g., Social Security, Medicare, and other “entitlements,” and narrower programs from welfare to farm subsidies).

This course will examine the causes of these developments; their consequences for political debate, policymaking, and public welfare; and the prospects for institutional reform.

Image: “United States Capitol” by Phil Roeder | Flickr,  CC BY 2.0

Christopher DeMuth on the rise of the administrative state


Christopher DeMuth

Christopher DeMuth is a Distinguished Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. He was President of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research from 1986–2008 and D.C. Searle Senior Fellow at AEI from 2008–2011.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session




  1. How, according to our authors, has American politics changed during the past several decades? Do the authors give satisfactory accounts of the causes of those changes? Has politics become more or less “democratic”?
  2. What have been the consequences of political change for the structure and output of government? Is “institutional decline” a congressional problem or a broader phenomenon?
  3. Is the representative legislature obsolete? Might it be restored—and, if so, would that be desirable?




  1. Is “executive supremacy” a mirror image of “legislative decline,” or does it have independent sources?
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of direct lawmaking by the President and the executive agencies? Are these primarily legal, political, or economic?
  3. Are the controversies over executive lawmaking likely to outlast the Obama administration and the debates over ObamaCare implementation?




  1. How has the nature of the debt problem changed over American history? Does “big government” require “big debt”? Is the debt a partisan issue where the interests of political liberals and conservatives conflict?
  2. How is today’s high government debt related to the issues discussed in previous sessions—political change, legislative decline, and executive supremacy?
  3. If the major entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare are running surpluses (with annual program revenues exceeding expenditures), how can they be said to be an important part of the debt problem?




  1. Do Eberstadt’s data and arguments affect your evaluation of the debt problem discussed at the previous session?
  2. Would a stronger Congress, or greater checks-and-balances on the executive, or stricter controls over annual deficits, be effective solutions to Eberstadt’s “epidemic”?
  3. What are Galston’s objections and Levin’s elaborations to Eberstadt’s arguments? Do you find them persuasive?




  1. In what respects was the financial crisis of 2008 a result of the political and institutional transformations examined in previous sessions? Has the crisis and its aftermath accentuated those transformations?
  2. Would greater checks and balances between Congress and the President make it easier or harder to respond to future financial crises?

Other Courses You Might Be Interested In

American Democratic Capitalism

Explore the intersection of theory and practice in our national politics, and particularly in our key economic debates.

Theory and Practice in Government Policy

Study the influence of ideas in four areas of policy contention—taxation, regulation, welfare, and abortion.

Administration & Crisis

Examine case studies in American history to better understand presidential crisis management.

Democracy, Capitalism, & Regulation

Examine the challenges of regulatory growth for limited government.

Partisanship in American Politics

Explore how societal trends and political parties have reshaped the character of America's partisan attachments.

Understanding Populism

Understand the resurgence of populism in America.