Crisis and Leviathan

Jun 22, 2004Jun 23, 2004


Session One: Tuesday, June 22:
Ratchet Effects and Government Evolution
Dr. Robert Higgs

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Session Two: Wednesday, June 23:
The Imbalance of Power: Executive Unilateralism and Congressional Abdication
Dr. Colleen Shogan

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The federal government has undergone several major changes this past century, at times, fundamentally altering its nature. But how and why has it done so? To explain how the government undergoes these shifts, Dr. Robert Higgs began research into what has become known academically as the "ratchet effect." The cause of this phenomenon lies in government's responses to national crises, including economic upheavals (e.g., the Great Depression) and especially times of war (e.g., World Wars I and II, Cold War, Gulf War, War on Terror, etc.). The result is a centralization of power that endures long after each crisis has passed. As power continues to concentrate, Higgs argues, it achieves a form of autonomy, making it ever more challenging for policymakers to reverse its direction or fundamentally alter the system.

Over the course of the twentieth century, Congress has ceded significant governmental powers to the presidency. In particular, presidents have captured national administrative capacities and greatly expanded their budgetary authority. Because presidents desire increased control over governmental processes, the centralization of governmental authority has grown over time. Dr. Shogan's lecture will address why this phenomenon has occurred, what its effects have been, and how Congress can reassert its Constitutional authority.