Federalism = Governments Competing

One incompetent government shouldn't put us all under.

Microsoft has long argued that their monolithic near-monopoly of the Windows operating system and of Microsoft Office, both of which are found on almost every computer in the world, is actually a good thing for consumers.  Because all the major pieces of software that most folks use all day come from the same company, their story goes, we can be assured that they will all work together smoothly and efficiently.  If each piece was from a different vendor, they wouldn't be nearly so integrated.

Which is true...

...When it works.

However, as every computer user knows, when one piece of Microsoft Office freezes, many others do the same - and frequently take the whole computer down with them, or at the least require a reboot.  If you're using software from a different vendor, such as Firefox (over Internet Explorer), the integration is not nearly so tight - both for ill, and for good.  When Firefox crashes, Windows and Office don't care; and, usually, vice versa.

Our Founding Fathers, while not IT junkies, were aware of these principles.  They could see that, although a highly centralized, authoritarian form of government was capable in theory of working efficiently, it could spread total corruption and incompetence with equal ease.

As a result, our system of government is intentionally designed as a federal republic.  There is a certain sphere of authority given to the national government, such as over the military and foreign trade; we really don't want each governor to be able to individually declare war or raise tariffs, as chaos would ensue.  But on every other issue not specifically stated to be of national concern in the U.S. Constitution, the states are supposed to have complete independence so as to determine what's best for their own local residents.

Not only does this encourage freedom, it produces better government through parallel analysis.  With fifty states in the union, we have fifty different laboratories in which to test different approaches to a problem.

And that's why the recent court ruling giving California the right to set its own environmental regulations is an excellent one, entirely in keeping with the intentions of the Founders.  Where conservatives are decrying this judgment, they are mistaken; instead, they should be celebrating it.

California wants to tremendously tighten emissions standards on road vehicles of all types in an attempt to reduce "greenhouse gas" emissions.  Those who think this is pointless or wrongheaded wish that these regulations could be avoided, by denying California the right to implement them.  The trouble with that is that the global warming promoters are not going away; they are already working to have the same draconian restrictions enforced at the national and global level.

If California puts special restrictions on cars, the effects will be clear for all to see.  The costs of purchasing automobiles will increase; the variety available will decrease; personal liberty will be limited; and, in all probability, the air will be no cleaner.

What is the alternative?  It is not likely that Toyota, GM and the other manufacturers will drastically change their entire production process so as to produce cars that all get 35+ MPG because of the court rulings of one state in the US.  Instead, they will absorb a fine from the California EPA every time a new car is sold in the state - or even terminate official sales there altogether. And every car dealership in California will have higher surcharges so that the makers can offest the fines.

Meanwhile, every car dealership in the neighboring states (Oregon, Nevada and Arizona) will not have the fines and markup, thus offering Cali residents an instant discount if they drive over the state line, pick up their new car and drive home again - or a furious encounter with a minion of California's DMV when they try to register their new car and find out they can't.

For some decades now, California has been a laboratory of all manner of aspects of liberalism, from permitting a tremendous influx of illegal immigrants, through extreme environmental regulation, and including various wrongheaded approaches to deregulation as well as crime and law enforcement.  As a result, not only is the bankruptcy of such mistakes revealed to all to see, but the numbers clearly show American Californians voting with their feet.

The Founders were firm believers in competition in government as in business.  Our Constitution prescribes three branches of government, in the hopes that any missteps by one branch will be corrected by the jealous action of the other two.  The fifty states provide a larger scope for these principles to operate.

It's always tempting to try to correct problems from the top down, by imposing solutions unilaterally across the entire country - but, if the solution is wrong, then the whole country suffers.  Far better to let one state make the mistakes to the edification of all.  That way, we're less likely to see the Blue Screen of Death across the entire system.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Politics.
Reader Comments

You have a good theory, but it's flawed.  You assume other states will learn from CA's example.  It's more likely that CA, with their size and economy, will affect similar rulings in other states before those states could have learned from their example.

December 22, 2007 8:34 AM

Would the founding fathers have been I.T. junkies if they were alive today?  This wasn't your point, but it's an interesting question.  I could definitely see George Washington playing with his blackberry while stopped at a traffic light.  Jefferson would have been in the car behind him, beeping angrily.

December 22, 2007 7:28 PM

Naah, George Washington would have been blowing by overhead in a military helicopter, while Jefferson roared through in a police escorted convoy.  Remember, Washington was commanding general, and Jefferson was one of the wealthier landowners in one of America's wealthier states at the time.

But it's a good point always worth pondering.  What would the Founding Fathers have made of, for instance, campaign finance "reform"?  The mind reels...

December 23, 2007 10:05 PM

After the war ended, King George III asked an American, "what does George Washington plan to do now?" referring to politics.

The American said "I expect he will return to his farm."  

The Kind replied, "if he does that, he will be the greatest man on earth".

Washington did, in fact, do just that.  He was later begged to return to politics which he did begrudingly.  I do not believe there has ever been a leader more correct for government than George Washington.

If alive today, rest assured he would NOT have been flying around in military helicopters.  He was a man interested in new ideas and new things, but from a quiet, withdrawn place.  A brilliant statemen, he hated giving speeches and was not particularly gifted.

December 29, 2007 9:42 AM
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