For people today it is hard to imagine what our government used to be like, before FDR changed everything. We are awash in regulations. In Garet Garrett’s fascinating collection of essays, called The People’s Pottage, he discusses (among other things) the advent of a slew of government agencies under Franklin Roosevelt, among them the NLRB, FDIC, and the SEC. These agencies were Roosevelt’s method of adding to his executive powers the power of legislation, a power not given to the President in the Constitution. Laws are to be enacted by the Legislative Branch of government alone:
All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States . . . [Article 1, Section 1, US Constitution]
The President’s role is merely to execute that legislation. In Garret’s words:
[Congress] did not write the New Deal laws. It received them from the White House, went through the motions of passing them, engrossed them, and sent them back to the President. That was called the rubber stamp congress . . .
In that special session the Congress had surrendered to the President its one absolute power, namely, control of the public purse; also in creating for the New Deal those new instruments of power demanded by the President it delegated to him a vast amount of law-making power—so much in fact that from then on the President and the agencies that were responsible to him made more law than the Congress. The law they made was called administrative law. Each new agency had the authority to issue rules and regulations having the force of law. [“The Revolution Was,” p. 60-61, in The People’s Pottage.]
So Roosevelt arrogated to the Executive Branch powers denied it by the Constitution. On top of that, the laws his agencies promulgated were all of the regulatory nature that Mike N. correctly identified as initiating force against American citizens.
It is often argued that the modern world is too complex for Congress to understand in all its minutia, let alone legislate for. Therefore, the argument goes, agencies are necessary. Even if one were to grant this premise – which I do not – it still does not justify any law-making agencies being created by or answerable to the Executive Branch. If they exist at all, they should be created by and answerable to the Legislative Branch alone.
But this argument is a red herring, in any case. The principles of law and government are not one iota more complex today than they were in 1787. It is only when a government becomes engaged in micromanaging the economy that it runs into this complexity. The solution is not to create a multitude of regulatory agencies, but to remove the government from the economy altogether.