From Classical to Progressive Liberalism: Ideological Development and the Origins of the Administrative State
46 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2021 Last revised: 14 Jul 2022
Date Written: July 13, 2022
Early support for expert policymaking through administrative agencies was rooted in concerns over political power. In a context of formal universal male suffrage, late 19th-century liberals (typically well-educated, urban professionals) opposed policies to regulate business out of fear of working-class radicalism. Yet by the 1910s, liberals supported economic regulation---through administrative agencies. We use a formal model to show how potential policy feedback effects made an anti-business coalition between liberals and populists unachievable, and how, by diminishing feedback effects, agencies facilitated a successful coalition to regulate business. Because administrative agencies guaranteed a central policymaking role for credentialed urban professionals, liberals could support farmers and industrial workers against big business while no longer fearing the rising power of their coalition partners. In this way, the strategic dilemma created by a changing distribution of power among social groups explains the development of broad political support for bureaucratic agencies.
Keywords: bureaucracy, formal model, American political development, policy feedback, shifting power, ideology
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