Thomas Pendergast Vladeck home

Trump & Federalism

I don’t think I’m the only person who grew up distrustful of the generically Republican position that we should weaken the federal government and “send more power back to the States” who is now re-evaluating the power of the federal government, now that it is in the hands of the spray tan menace.

I think for a lot of us, this position seemed a bit too close to a modern articulation of “states rights”. It was definitely true in the past — and is probably true today — that it is impossible to evaluate Republican policy positions separately from the party’s antagonism toward civil rights.

But, assuming it is possible to do that, I’m finding the idea of moving more and more policy decisions out of the federal government and into respective state governments more and more attractive.

For example, the country does not agree on health care policy. The citizens of New York, Massachusetts, and California probably agree. And those of Utah and Idaho probably agree. (In all cases, I mean agree to the degree required to reach a consensus in government). But New York and Utah definitely don’t. But should they have to?

Most states are as large as national governments elsewhere in the world. Even Utah, which is 31st in US State GDP, has an economy almost as large as New Zealand’s and a population over 3 million people. By comparison, Denmark and Norway, two Scandinavian countries often cited as the gold standard for quality of government, have populations of 5.7 million and 5.2 million, respectively.

So each state definitely has the resources to run their own health care system. Why not let Utah run their system and let New York run their system? I don’t know why this is not possible, but I also don’t think it makes much sense to continue trying to get the whole country to adopt a single system when some coalitions in some states want one thing and other coalitions in other states want something else. And why wouldn’t this be the best possible way to resolve the disagreement? If one approach succeeds and the other fails, won’t there be a lot of pressure on the unsuccessful states to adopt the more successful approach?

This logic definitely doesn’t apply everywhere — some things really do have to be handled at a national level. Climate policy, for example; or the military.

But many domestic policies that are intractable at the national level are much more tractable at the state level (or lower). I’m beginning to believe we should stop trying to agree on policies and accept our disagreement.