Thursday, February 01, 2007

ACS v. FedSoc: States or Federal

In this, our first installment of the ACS-FedSoc semester-long exchange, the ACS and FedSoc media committees will begin with a few broad ideological distinctions between the two groups. Please remember the writers write on their own behalf. For more information click here.

States or Federal

          It seems a common critique of the ACS and left-leaning legal voices that they disregard states’ rights; that they desire an omnipresent and overwhelming federal government. States are powerful engines of progress — in the “progressive” sense. Workers’ compensation, universal health care, and rational climate change policy all began (or are beginning) with bold action from state governments. As Justice Brandeis put it: “[t]here must be power in the States and the Nation to remould, through experimentation, our economic practices and institutions to meet changing social and economic needs.” New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 262, 311 (1932) (Brandeis, J., dissenting). However, states have also served as bastions for discrimination and unequal protection under the law, shielding (or perhaps obfuscating) immoral and fundamentally un-American practices behind the mantra of “states’ rights.” So we are left with a complicated picture: states must be free to serve as democracy’s laboratory, but this freedom cannot be invoked for anti-democratic and unconscionable ends. In that spirit, it seems prudent to assess practical consequences when vesting political power at one or the other level of government.
          Rick points to federal “usurpation” of states’ powers in providing social services as depriving states of the ability to compete for their citizenry. This observation is both deft and daft. Apt in that it accepts the welfare state and admits its desirability to citizens. His comments are marred by an implicit contradiction: social security is premised on the understanding that government is better positioned than individual citizens are to care for the general welfare. The point of social security is to sacrifice choice in the name of financial and social stability.

      To see a FedSoc Member's take on this issue, click here.



At 8:23 AM, Blogger SLCbearcat said...

I would argue that the real problem with "50 laboratories" model of the nation is that it ignores the potential for abuse when states are left to their own devices. Historically, the biggest issue driving the federal encroachment of state power was the blatant civil rights violations of the southern states. The civil rights situation is better today (arguably) but there are still lots of areas where individual states, if freed from federal limitations, would enact legislation and schemes that most of the nation would find objectionable.
Environmental issues, for example, are particularly unsuited to local control. People who live near a natural resource have strong financial incentives to exploit it, often in ways to maximize short-term gains. National control allows for conservation and long-term stewardship. Other economic legislation falls into this category, too. In the absence of federal health and labor standards, conservative states would have much weaker worker's rights regimes.
Honestly, I'm a little suspicious whenever anyone raises the "experimentation" argument, because the states already have a huge amount of latitude to set their own internal policies. The only thing they are not free to do is disregard the baseline regulatory floor that the federal government imposes. I get the sense that most "states' rights" agitation stems from dissatisfaction with this regulation, rather than any burning desire to experiment with innovative new policies.


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