The nation’s founding fathers defined a concept for the federation of states. They conceived a constitution that specifically defined the powers of the federal government. At the same time they conceived the tenth amendment, a part of the Bill of Rights – “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This is the origin of todays discussion of States Rights. Wikipedia defines states rights as:
In American political discourse, states’ rights are political powers reserved for the state governments rather than the federal government according to the United States Constitution, reflecting especially the enumerated powers of Congress and the Tenth Amendment. The enumerated powers that are listed in the Constitution include exclusive federal powers, as well as concurrent powers that are shared with the states, and all of those powers are contrasted with the reserved powers—also called states’ rights—that only the states possess.
Over the years the Federal government has assumed more and more authority. One of the key tools in this process is the threat of withholding federal funds if the states do not enact of enforce particular policies. There is a fundamental premise at work here – centralized (federal) authority is more efficient and effective. This in turn assumes that “one size fits all” works and is appropriate. This is arguably not the case. What is good for the citizens of one state may not be for another state. People are different. An agricultural state has different priorities from an industrial state. A coastal state faces different issues than a mid-country state. Racial and ethnic diversity is different in different states. We can and should celebrate these differences with more state/local discretion in governance. Top down, absolute control, may work and be appropriate for the military but not in normal times for the general population. By extension of this logic, more local authority versus state authority may also be better. Obviously, this logic has limits. My argument here is that our democracy may benefit if the current trend is reversed or at least not expanded.
A final thought. It has been my experience that if people are involved in finding a solution to a problem then they have a sense of ownership, and as a result feel supportive, confident and content with the ‘democratic process’. Obviously we all can’t be involved in all legislative deliberations. However, the more ‘local’ the process, the more likely that individual citizens will be aware of the process, the issues, the alternatives, and the decision process, and thereby be confident in the process.
Photo by Ken Lund