Pre-election Musing on Federalism

Image of the US House mathematically redistricted over the lower 48 states using the "Shortest Splitline Algorithm"

I saw two televised debates this election cycle: New York’s US Senatorial race (the Schumer one—I get to vote in two Senate elections this year, YAY!), and oddly, the Colorado gubernatorial debate.

Aside from the Coloradoans discussing higher education (I forget if it was the Republican Maes or American Constitutional Party Tancredo who mentioned that university professors teach only thirteen hours per week and that they should amp that up to thirty), nothing laworthy came up, which isn’t unfair—legal education isn’t the biggest problem in the country.

Two moments in the debates made me ask, just what good are state governments right now?  One moment was when Schumer’s opponent, Republican Jay Townsend, criticized Schumer for inaction while 1.5 million residents left New York during his twelve years in office, as well as watching other states receive giveaways from the federal government (Umm, TARP?).  The other occurred in various discussions between the would-be govs about how to entice businesses to locate or remain in Colorado.

So, I define government as a mandatory, necessary, non-profit social-insurance corporation.  The operative term here is “public goods”.  With this in mind, why should state governments care if people leave or businesses move away, provided standards of living remain constant?  Pride, yes.  But the debates gave me the feeling that all federalism does now is cause states to beggar one another for businesses’ affections.  More people in your state gives it more clout in the US House, diverting funding, but again, states’ goals shouldn’t be overpopulating themselves for more money.  Nor should affluent states whine if their federal tax dollars are spent on poor people elsewhere—that’s the federal government’s job; we are one nation.  As for the Senate, everyone believes their Senate candidates must play leader and come up with his or her own 13-point plan to balance the budget, stimulate the economy, end the wars, continue the wars, bring peace to the Middle-East, neutralize Iran, stop China’s imports, force the Chinese to buy our exports, etc. etc.  Unrealistic expectations.

In the context of depression-era economics, we have state governments that can’t run deficits, can’t print money, and can’t stimulate their economies.  With a federal government unwilling to invest in its own people, I find myself fantasizing of living in a well-apportioned parliamentary state.


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