Sheldon Richman in Reason:
Sometimes a step back helps to provide perspective on a matter. President Obama provided such a step with his March 16 Executive Order—National Defense Resources Preparedness. In it we see in detail how completely the government may control our lives—euphemistically called the “industrial and technological base”—if the president were to declare a national emergency. It is instructive, if tedious, reading.
President Obama claims this authority under the Constitution and, vaguely, “the laws of the United States,” but it specifically names the Defense Production Act of 1950. As Robert Higgs of the Independent Institute and a Freeman columnist observed, the government’s authority to commandeer the economy, which was “abandoned” after World War II then substantially reinstated with the Korean War,
was retained afterward in the form of statutory authority for its reinstatement whenever the president might so order under the authority of the Defense Production Act of 1950, as amended. . . . Under this statute, the president has lawful authority to control virtually the whole of the U.S. economy whenever he chooses to do so and states that the national defense requires such a government takeover.
No Academic Exercise
The Executive Order, which requires no additional congressional approval, details who within the executive branch has what precise authority in the event the President invokes his emergency powers. We shouldn’t assume this is merely an academic exercise or that a third world war would need to break out. In the last decade, under circumstances representing no “existential threat” to our society, the executive branch has exercised extraordinary powers.