The Administrative State, Inside Out

15 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2022 Last revised: 9 May 2022

See all articles by Cass R. Sunstein

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: March 29, 2022


In the United States, are administrative agencies illegitimate? A threat to democracy? A threat to liberty? A threat to human welfare? Many people think so, and in important ways, they are surely correct. But an understanding of the actual operation of the administrative state in the United States, seen from the inside, makes it exceedingly difficult to object to “rule by unelected bureaucrats” or “an unelected fourth branch of government.” Such an understanding casts a new light on some large and abstract objections from the standpoint of democracy, liberty, and welfare. Indeed, it makes those objections seem coarse and insufficiently uninformed. What is needed is less in the way of arguments from adjectives and nouns, and more conceptual and empirical work on welfare and distributive justice, and on how regulators can increase both.

Keywords: administrative state, nondelegation doctrine, welfare, liberty

JEL Classification: K, K10

Suggested Citation

Sunstein, Cass R., The Administrative State, Inside Out (March 29, 2022). Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 22-02, Available at SSRN: or

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)

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Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

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