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Balance of Power
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"The imbalance of knowledge between Congress and executive agencies leads to an imbalance of power and vice versa," writes M. Anthony Mills.

Congress’ knowledge deficit renders it powerless

Mills is associate vice president of policy at the R Street Institute, a nonpartisan and pro-free-market public policy research organization.

"Knowledge is power." The phrase is attributed to Francis Bacon, the so-called father of modern science, who believed that scientific knowledge enables the mastery of nature and the "relief of man's estate." Although Bacon himself was interested primarily in scientific and technological progress, the connection between knowledge and power is also a political problem — and one that is particularly pertinent today.

Knowledge has always been necessary for making laws and political decisions. But in modern times, scientific knowledge in particular has become indispensable for governing — and not only because modern states make decisions about overtly scientific matters like research funding, environmental protection and space exploration. Administering public policies, from health care and welfare to regulation and taxation, relies on various types of scientific knowledge. And it is, for the most part, carried out by executive agencies staffed by experts.

Over time, such agencies have acquired legislative-like powers — the authority, in effect, to make law by interpreting deliberately vague or broad statutes. One rationale for Congress' delegation of this power to the executive branch has to do with knowledge: Congress lacks the requisite expertise, whereas executive agencies do not. This is in part Congress' own fault, since it has, over time, depleted its own in-house expertise — by, for example, reducing expert staff and dismantling the Office of Technology Assessment. The imbalance of knowledge between Congress and executive agencies leads to an imbalance of power and vice versa.

This is problematic on three counts.

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Debate: Big tech and the future of political speech online

Organizer: R Street Institute

Despite the convenience and benefits of online platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, the growing power and influence of 'Big Tech' have inspired a new wave of critics on both America's Left and Right. These critics have argued online platforms promote unhealthy addiction, exacerbate polarization, waste our time and energy, and create easier pathways to violent extremism. Many on the Right have focused their criticisms on what they consider systemic anti-conservative bias, claiming that social media platforms use their power to enforce ideological viewpoints, restrict free speech, and even help left-leaning politicians get elected. Such attacks against Silicon Valley have come from conservative policymakers such as Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), FCC chairman Ajit Pai, and perhaps most notably, President Donald Trump himself.

On this basis, some conservatives have proposed to crack down on tech companies by repealing Sec. 230 of the Communications Decency Act, drafting legislation and Executive Orders to enforce viewpoint neutrality, and bringing new antitrust actions. Yet many dissenters on the Right argue that claims of bias are anecdotal, exaggerated, or even fabricated, and that the proposed remedies would violate fundamental conservative and constitutional principles. Join us for a 90-minute Oxford-style debate between two teams of highly notable advocates from each side. Reception to follow.

Location: Galvanize - San Francisco, 44 Tehama St., 5th Floor, San Francisco, CA

Symposium on Congressional Capacity and Endless War in Afghanistan & Syria

Organizer: R Street Institute

U.S. military personnel invaded Afghanistan almost two decades ago, and the U.S government began supplying aid to Syrian rebels in 2012. In neither case did Congress use its Article I authority to declare war. In fact, Congress has not declared war since 1942. Instead, presidential administrations have justified their military actions in Afghanistan or Syria. For example, Congress passed an "authorization of the use of military force" (AUMF) in 2001 to permit the Bush administration to use U.S. military resources against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. This sort of presidentially-initiated military intervention is a far cry from what the Founders intended.

Join the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group on November 12 to discuss this constitutionally anomalous situation and congressional capacity over war powers and foreign affairs.

Location: Capitol Visitor Center, CVC 268, Washington, DC

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