It seems as though whenever there’s a problem at a local or regional level there’s an uncontrollable urge to fix it with a national solution. That, Matthew Yglesias says, is because “make sense to take action at the level of a small sub-unit of a large economically integrated country”.
It does make sense to have national policies for defense and foreign affairs, to name the specific areas in which the Founding Fathers agreed that the federal government could be most effective. Matt’s examples of the need for federal authority in ecological and economic matters are less clear-cut.
One thing that is clear is that the federal government’s original purpose was not to define an overarching, homogenous legal structure dictating the terms under which state and local governments must function.
Rather, the fundamental domestic purpose of the federal government was to resolve disputes between the states. That is, to resolve individual grievances between states on their merits, not to force national conformity into areas in which it isn’t essential. Unfortunately, that has happened since as the federal government and courts have, in defiance of the Constitution, effectively annexed the rights of the states for themselves.
One important piece of legislation that helped established the precedent for federal authority over states and corporations was the Interstate Commerce Act which initially brought privately owned railroads to heel and has more recently been abused by the courts in order to extend federal authority into all sorts of areas in which it does not belong.
Taken from the liberal perspective, Yglesias is correct in saying that state government does not work to advance government activism. That’s the entire point of states’ rights as envisioned by the founders of this country – to keep at bay the oppressive power of a strong central government.
When the United States was created, those involved recognized the imperativeness that people be able to govern themselves in ways that seem fitting to them and that absolute agreement and conformity to a single national standard was neither possible nor desirable. That idea has been lost in large part because of the persistent pressure from the left for the federal government to solve more and more local problems.
How’s that working so far?