Fearless Reason

Fearless reason in an age of frightened absurdity.

Tag: state’s rights

Big Problems, Little Solutions

It is often said that America has big problems that require big solutions. To this, I would say they are half right. We as a country have much to overcome, not least of which is getting our financial house in order. However, as the fiscal cliff looms, and one “big deal” after another gives way to temporary solutions and the kicking of the can down the road, these problems seem ever more insurmountable.

At a time when neither party seems to be able to agree on anything, both appear to agree that the federal government is and should be primarily responsible for addressing the country’s woes. I would contend however, that the fate of this nation should not be left in the hands of a few men with enormous power. The hope of our country, as always, lies in the vast resource of our people.

In the face of insurmountable problems, I propose our federal leaders take radical action. In fact I propose they do the hardest thing anyone with power can do, which is to relinquish that power. America learned long ago that free market capitalism is most conducive to an efficient, innovative and prosperous economy. When people are free to make their own decisions and prosper from them, they innovate, solve problems and by their individual actions create a better more prosperous world. On the other hand, the end of the Cold War and the decline and fall of the Soviet Union taught us that a centralized command economy becomes unsustainable when it reaches a certain level of complexity. A handful of bureaucrats cannot match the efficiency, innovation and flexibility of the invisible hand of the free market.

It is time we recognize that these lessons are not limited to the economic functions of government, but are applicable across the board. Centralization of policy and decision-making at the federal level has resulted in a bloated inefficient federal government, which is incapable of innovation or even carrying out the basic functions of governing. Therefore, I would urge our federal leaders to step aside, and restore to state and local governments the power to govern their people.

We must free the hands of local and state leaders, who understand the problems facing their people. Let the federal government do only that which the federal government can, and leave to the states all else. This was the original vision of our founders and constitution, before the Court rendered the tenth amendment moot. That is not to say I am advocating a return to Lochner, where industry was allowed to run amuck; what I suggest is a return to localism, and re-establishing state and local governments as the focal point of American political life. Let the most ardent red states and blue states realize their most radical ideological excesses, and let the rest of the country learn from their follies and follow a middle path incorporating their successes.

Give to the states the management and control of social security, medicare and medicaid, and give them the power to fund them. Those states that walk a wise and compassionate path that balances the needs of the most vulnerable with economic growth will prosper, while those who chose another path will fail. Those who do not vote at the ballot box will vote with their feet, and the ideological winners and losers will quickly become apparent by the success or failure of their states.

America is a large and diverse country, filled with talented people with different values and ideas. Yet the fate of all has been hitched to the decisions and faults of a few men in Washington, who with their narrow scope of experiences and ideas go about making policy for all. Where the wisdom of a few fails, perhaps the wisdom of the many can do better.

The State of Things

What kind of America do you prefer, one of diversity or homogeneity?  Though debates over the proper relationship between states and the federal government are a staple of American politics, substantive discourse is often lacking. The opposing positions of the two parties are clear, but only as slogans and soundbites. Republicans deride big government as being invasive and inefficient, while Democrats cast the argument in terms of universal principals and rights that all are entitled to. What goes unnoticed is that these two things are not mutually exclusive.

For me, the strongest argument for states’ rights is the idea that state governments are a marketplace for ideas. When states are allowed to make their own decisions, we have an opportunity to see how that decision plays out in practice, and whether it is a good or bad idea. If a way of dealing with a problem is particularly effective, it will be adopted by other states and may eventually achieve universal acceptance. Though people may never universally agree, at least the other ideas will have had the opportunity to fail.

Another neglected merit of state autonomy is that a defeated minority can vote with their feet. If an individual finds a state’s laws oppressive or incongruous with their values, they can move to a state that better reflects those views. Under a system where most decisions are made at the federal level, short of ex expatriation, there is no escape from an oppressive or incompetent government.

For too long the Federal government has tried to be everything to everyone. As the guarantor of national morality and steward of the national economy and personal well being of every man woman and child, the Federal government is intimately involved with every aspect of our daily lives. The federal system we currently have puts our collective fates in the hands of a small number of people. Now gridlocked, their failure to solve the nation’s problems will be everyone’s failure.

There is something to be said for the survivability of diversity. Where power and decision making is spread out, the bad decisions of a handful of people are less likely to have catastrophic consequences for everyone. Moreover, when power is dispersed, a minority is less likely to capture the government and force everyone to accept their values.

I’m not proposing abolition of the federal system. There are many things that only the Federal government can do. However, most things can and should be left to the states. The Tenth Amendment envisions a limited Federal government. It is only through strained interpretations of the commerce and spending clauses that the Federal government has gained almost plenary authority. The result being political disengagement by the American people, a bankrupt nation, and a political system that has ceased to function.