Something new is happening in American politics. Although most Americans continue to oppose socialism, it has reentered electoral politics and is enjoying an upsurge in public support unseen since the days of Eugene V. Debs. The three questions we will be focusing on are: Why has this happened? What does today’s “democratic socialism” mean in contrast with past versions? And what are the political implications?
It’s worth recalling how important socialism once was at the ballot box to understand that this tradition has deeper roots in our history than many imagine. In the 1912 presidential election, Debs secured six percent of the popular vote, and Socialists held 1,200 offices in 340 cities, their ranks including 79 mayors. Socialism declined after this peak and faced repression during World War I because of the party’s opposition to the war. (Debs secured almost a million votes in the 1920 presidential election, running from a jail cell).
After the war ended, the Communist seizure of power in what became the Soviet Union contributed to a “red scare” that further weakened America’s indigenous socialist tradition.
Socialism never lost its intellectual influence, however. The New Deal drew on proposals pioneered by socialists, and it was a young socialist named Michael Harrington whose book The Other America helped launch the war on poverty. But when it came to electoral politics, socialism was largely shunned or irrelevant.
Until now. The crash of 2008, rising inequality, and an intensifying critique of how contemporary capitalism works has brought socialism back into the mainstream—in some ways even more powerfully than in Debs’ time, since those who use the label have become an influential force in the Democratic Party. http://www.brookings.edu
A Brief History of Administrative Government
A. The Early Years
Federal administrative agencies have been a critical part of our political process for over 100 years, but their role in our government has changed considerably over that period of time
When the American republic was young, the executive branch of the government was small. The first agencies of the federal government were the Departments of War, State, Navy, and Treasury. There was also an Office of the Attorney General.
The growth of the country and the expansion of governmental responsibilities led to the creation of the Department of the Interior in 1849, the Department of Justice in 1870, and the Post Office Department in 1872.
Agencies began to adopt formal operating standards and publish rules in response to public criticism of abuses of power under the spoils system. In 1868, for instance, the Treasury Department began publishing its customs decisions, followed in 1869 by the Patent Office.
The period between 1865 and 1900 saw the birth of independent regulatory commissions. Congress created these agencies to set rates and bring order into industry competition. The first of these so-called economic regulatory agencies was the Interstate Commerce Commission. It was established in 1887 in response to charges that farmers and merchants were being forced to pay exorbitant railroad rates to ship their products to market.
Reformers believed independent regulatory commissions would bring greater, expertise, specialization and continuity to bear on economic problems than Congress could, and would operate in a dispassionate, nonpolitical environment.
However, many regulatory commissions had dual and sometimes contradictory objectives: To control and direct a specific industry and to promote those same industries. It was not long before many “independent” regulatory commissions were being accused of being “captives” of the industries they were supposed to regulate. In some cases industries themselves supported the creation of regulatory rate commissions as a way to help end competitive practices.
The economic concerns that led Congress to create independent regulatory commissions were soon joined by more social concerns such as public health and safety. For instance, in the early 1900’s, the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle brought nationwide attention to unsanitary practices in the meat industry. This followed news of rotten canned meat being served to American soldiers in the Spanish-American War and two decades of complaints about U.S. meat exports-for a time banned in Europe.
Congress tried unsuccessfully to solve the problem with a number of meat inspection laws. The solution was finally found in more comprehensive legislation and broadened authority for an administrative agency. The Food and Drug Act of 1906 mandates protection of the public from the health hazards of adulterated and mislabeled foods, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices. The Bureau of Chemistry, which later became the Food and Drug Administration, was given expanded powers to implement the new law.
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