Scholars of bureaus have long struggled to explain and understand the value of having independent agencies in democracies. Some argue that independence is bad because accountability to elected officials is important for agency responsiveness. Others have argued that independence is good, perhaps because elected officials only imperfectly represent the electorate.
I’ve been thinking a lot about independence the last couple of years, and have arrived at three observations about independent agencies in our modern world.
First, more and more developing countries are turning to the independence model for designing their regulatory systems.
Second, policy practitioners increasingly recognize the value of independent agencies staffed by professionals in the field. These calls come from both the right and the left.
Third, polarization makes independence more – not less – valuable as an arrangement for long-term stability in the policy sphere.
In my opinion, the focus in political science on accountability pretty much misses the point about why we have such bureaus, and their value in the policymaking environment.