Is Participatory Rule-Making Possible?
Over the past century or so, progressives championed the creation of expert-staffed regulatory agencies that have been central to many of the policy successes of the period. Financial regulations developed during the New Deal to combat the fraud and speculation that fueled the crash of 1929 led to decades of financial stability, while improvements in workplace safety, drug quality and environmental standards all depend on the efforts of regulators.
This progressive vision of government has rested, particularly since the New Deal, on a faith that neutral, objective technocrats are the best policy-makers. But it also rests on an implicit skepticism about democracy and populism. Rather than being directly accountable to the public, regulators are loosely subjected to presidential and Congressional oversight. In theory, this insulation enables regulators to address the complexities and merits of an issue rather than heeding the demands of interest groups and lobbyists. But it also magnifies the dangers when regulators are biased, influenced by special interests or simply ineffective. Financial regulators, for example, were among the biggest culprits in the 2008 financial crash.