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Editorial Advisory Council
Professor James Allan, Professor Ray Ball,
Professor Je Bennett, Professor Geo rey Brennan,
Professor Lauchlan Chipman, Professor Kenneth
Clements, Professor Sinclair Davidson, Professor David
Emanuel, Professor Ian Harper, Professor Wolfgang
Kasper, Professor Chandran Kukathas, Professor Tony
Makin, Professor R.R. O cer, Professor Suri Ratnapala,
Professor David Robertson, Professor Razeen Sally,
Professor Steven Schwartz, Professor Judith Sloan,
Professor Peter Swan, Professor Geo rey de Q. Walker.
Policy is a quarterly publication of e Centre for
Independent Studies in Australia and New Zealand. Views
expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily re ect
the views of the Centre's sta , advisers, directors, or o cers.
This issue of Policy was already at the layout stage when the game-changing results of the
US election came in. In the avalanche of coverage that has ensued, the overwhelming
theme has been: what is President-elect Trump going to do? Will he really make good on
his election promises to build a wall along the border with Mexico, impose tariffs on China, and
ban Muslims from entering the US (just to name a few)? The incessant speculation, however,
does not get to the heart of the issue: the question that should be asked is not what will
Trump do but what can he do. The answer should concern everyone who believes in checks
and balances on executive power.
As PJ O'Rourke told Tom Switzer in the Spring issue of Policy:
My libertarian sensibilities are offended not so much by Trump himself, but by
the amount of power that has accrued to the American presidency. Without a
parliamentary system our chief executive has a terrible amount of latitude,
especially in terms of international relations---in other words trade and war (p. 41).
In short, Trump is merely a symptom of a much deeper disease: the progressive concentration
of power in the oval office in the first place. As Trevor Burrus from the Cato Institute has
pointed out, the framers of the American constitution were well aware of the dangers of
demagoguery and populism. That's why they entrusted the legislative branches with most
of the decision-making power. But after more than a century of erosion, the constitution no
longer limits government the way it once did and the office of the president has become too
In his 2008 book The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive
Power (written in the twilight of the Bush years)---and in the sequel False Idol about the Obama
presidency---the Cato Institute's Gene Healy reveals how the office of president has been
transformed from chief administrator of the nation's laws into something akin to an elected
Conservatives and liberals, he argues, are both to blame for the way Congress has ceded
responsibility to the executive, particularly during the Bush and Obama years. As he wrote just
days before the election:
Conservatives pushed for a stronger presidency during the era of the Emerging
Republication majority, believing they'd hold the office more often than not. They
pushed even harder during the second Bush presidency, passing on radically
enhanced powers to Barack Obama. Liberals, in turn, adopted a 'what-me-worry'
attitude towards unchecked war powers, so long as Obama was in charge, and
cheered 44's promise to govern with the pen and phone.
These powers are now available to Trump.
Burrus has called for Americans to forge a new consensus over limiting executive power,
one that cuts across partisan and ideological lines. This will also require both a Congress
and Supreme Court willing to impose checks on the executive. But most importantly---as
Jeffrey Tucker from the Foundation for Economic Education argues in our opening feature
article---such a consensus will ultimately depend on the people themselves. Unless Americans
change what they want from and expect of government, they will suffer the consequences of
unchecked power and government overreach.
A big thank you to everyone who participated in the Policy survey in October. The feedback
was very positive, with a few constructive criticisms and some incisive observations (such
as 'Je suis Bill Leak'). Interestingly, over half of respondents still prefer to read Policy in hard
copy, with over half again accessing the online version on a desktop device. That said, the
number of subscribers using mobiles or tablets is growing and we are now looking at ways to
improve the digital experience. Perhaps not surprisingly, readers expressed an overwhelming
interest in economics, followed by politics and then foreign affairs, welfare reform, education
and philosophy (in that order)---but also indicated that the diversity of topics that Policy covers
Finally, to the reader who expressed an interest in writing for the magazine, and to anyone
else who would like to submit an article for consideration, I recommend emailing me first at
email@example.com to discuss your ideas.
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