Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Daniel J. Elazar's American Federalism: A View from the States, Third Edition

Daniel J. Elazar, American Federalism: A View from the States, Third Edition. New York: Harper and Row, 1984. 270 pages. Available used and new from for $45.

This is an excellent source book about the basic ideas of American federalism as expressed in Hamilton, Madison and Jay's Federalist Papers and as it has evolved over the ensuing centuries. Elazar is a noted historian and political scientist who died in 1999 at age 65.

This book reads almost like a textbook. If you are interested in a the best overview of federalism, this is it. Moreover, Elazar includes much intriguing information that adds interest to this important subject.

The states are important, argues Elazar, because "they retain their political position in the overall framework of the nation's political system, a position that requires constitutional support but that transcends constitutional formulations". But as well as being part of national civil society, the states are separate civil societies that cooperate with the federal government.

In chapter one, Elazar points out that "federal democracy is the authentic American contribution to democratic thought and republican government". Federalism contrasts with Jacobinism (p. 5), which is an organic theory of the state aiming to democratize feudalism. Under Jacobinism, power resides at the center of a unified, organic state. In America, the first important Jacobin was Francis Lieber, who came to America in 1848. Of course, the founding fathers were well aware of authors such as Rousseau who were founders of this ideology. As Elazar points out, there is a close link between Jacobinism and Progressivism.

The argument for bureaucracy leads to a third ideology, managerialism, which is the political application of Weberian bureaucracy and scientific management.

Importantly, Elazar points out that federalism or the "matrix model" (p. 6):

"Is best understood as a cybernetic one, a network whose loadings can be shifted from arena to arena as different power currents and messages are transmitted through the multitude of channels interlacing the system. Thus power does not move in a unidirectional way, but shifts in response to changing circumstances."

Thus, Elazar points out that modern developments are most consistent with the Founding Fathers' federalism and not with the managerialism of Progressivism (p. 6):

"The theory and experience of the new technology stand in direct contradiction to earlier notions of duplication. Put differently, technology has begun to imitate the Constitution...That system was not a pyramid, with channels for carrying orders from the top to the bottom, but a matrix of authoritative governmental units located within the framework"

Moreover, the elements of the matrix generally cooperate with each other:

"Since the beginning of the republic, the elements in the matrix have worked together to develop common policies and programs. Most important actors are involved in most important details of most steps in problem definition, planning, programming, budgeting, implementation and evaluation (such as it has been) of most policies of mutual interest to them through the political process."

States have local customs and civil societies (p. 14) but states vary as to how far they deviate from national "patterns and norms" and "policies and interests" and the degree of intra- and inter-state sharing (p.16). Elazar actually ranks the states as to cohesiveness. He also compares the internal consistency of Congressional delegations on roll call votes. However, roll call votes reflect the "results of intrastate conflict" whereas the ranking measures internal unity.

In chapter 2 Elazar asks how federalism creates order out of uncertainty and a "system of systems". If people can't obtain governmentally-related goals through the federal government they go through the states, or vice-versa. Issues often become important at the state and federal level at the same time.

Elazar does not believe that the states can afford to act on their own with respect to many programs (p. 38):

"Given the existence of a national economy in which people, goods and services flow across boundaries easily on the basis of essentially private decisions, the state governments, no matter how willing, are simply unable to cope with some problems without federal assistance. Unemployment insurance, workers' compensation, water pollution control, major highway construction and a whole host of other programs cannot be undertaken alone, even by those states that can afford them. The nation's great industrial corporations have facilities in too many different states..."

Thus, early twentieth century welfare reform efforts began in the states, but reformers found that:

"After some initial successes in the regulatory field, the reformers were unable to secure positive welfare measures except in a few states which pioneered such programs for the country as a whole. This happened partly because their proposed programs were expensive.

Elazar points out that theories of the Federalists was fundamental to the structure of the US government (p.47):

"By accepting the notion of a non centralized government based on system of systems and writing that notion into the fundamental structure of American government, the founders of the United States created the need for the development of a new politics to make their constitution operational."

The states have the primary role for the protection of property rights, although the Federal government has made increasing incursions on these in the form of regulation and federal taxation. Foreign policy, defense and the like, as well as patents, monetary policy and tariffs, are primarily federal. But most governmental responsibilities are shared at least to a degree. Issues such as bankruptcy, discrimination, sanitary inspection, banking regulation and subsidizing business are joint. Responsibilities for insurance regulation, workers' compensation and licensing businesses are state level responsibilities (p. 52).

The trend has been to supercession (see chart on p. 55). Supercession means that the federal government is encroaching on the states.

Big business has preferred federal over state regulation (p. 56):

"As the more progressive or more industrialized states began to strengthen enforcement of their own standards, however, big business shifted to support federal standards as likely to be more uniform across the country. Uniform standards would ease the burden on large state enterprises, and was also likely to be weaker than those of the largest states, where the labor lobby was strong and the business lobby politically weak.

"The legislation that emerged was a compromise. The federal government was to establish nationwide occupational safety and health standards...(OSHA)...A state could continue to maintain its jurisdiction if its plan was substantially as effective as the federal plan, as approved by the Secretary of Labor...States could choose to abandon their own efforts...OSHA could intervene in state efforts through federal monitoring power...Only 28 states were interested in developing alternatives to OSHA (with only 22 following through)...OSHA, by its actions and inactions came to be a symbol of all that was wrong with overbureaucratization...Congress reacted by limiting the scope of its (OSHA's) powers" (p. 57).

States devised consultation plans to remedy OSHA's weaknesses. States have widely varying levels of welfare (statistic cited on p. 60 from ACIR Significant Facts of Federalism). In fiscal year 1980 the federal government collected 61% of all tax revenue.

On p. 68 Elazar has a graph that shows that total public sector spending increased from 10.0% of GNP in 1929 to 33.5% of GNP in 1982. Of that state and local government grew from 7.3% of GDP in 1929 (2.0 for state and 5.3% for local) to 10.5%. Thus, the federal share grew from 2.5% to 23.0%, or tenfold. However, if you subtract defense (which grew from 1.1% to 8.5%) the federal share grew from 1.4% to 14.5%, which is still tenfold. I don't think intergovernmental transfers should be subtracted, as Elazar suggests, because they reflect federal rather than pure state policy.

It seems to me that we were better off in 1929.

Between 1961 and 1979 federal spending on education increased fifteen fold (640 to 9,979 million). Public welfare spending at the federal level increased from 59 million to $18,722 million, or over nearly 3,200 percent.

On p. 85 Elazar gives an account of the tilting of federalism toward the federal government in the 20th century:

"The patterns of sharing described above were crystallized in the 1930s and underwent some significant changes in the 1960s. The crisis-oriented centralism of the New Deal period was normalized after 1946 and the modes of cooperation developed during the 1930s were continued virtually unchanged, though in a more non centralized manner. Beginning in 1961 with the New Frontier, but even more significantly after 1963 and the inauguration of the Great Society, the recognition of the existence of cooperative federalism was accompanied by an expansion of the federal government's role, not only as an initiator of programs but as a policy innovator willing to apply various forms of pressure on the states and localities to get them to conform to its demands...

"Much of the pressure toward conformity was of the kind common in other periods of extensive governmental innovation, and was subsequently relaxed. However, particularly after Richard M. Nixon became president there were also some structural changes in the forms of sharing...The proliferation of grant programs was one of these and the expanding use of project grants was another...Other changes included the diversification of eligible grant recipients, the radical expansion of grants for inner city improvements, and the introduction of planning requirements..."

On p. 94 Elazar discusses the nature of federal expenditures:

"The greatest impact of federal spending within the United States comes not from transfers of payments to state or local governments, but form 1) defense-related expenditures; 2) direct payments to private individuals; 3)government grants to institutions for civilian research...By far the greatest share of direct federal spending is in the form of payments to individuals what have come to be known as income maintenance fiscal year 1980, $314 billion of the $634 billion federal budget, or nearly half, was committed to payments for individuals"

As of 1984, four years into the Reagan administration, "1984 budget estimates, based on a $900 budget authority with outlays of $848.5 billion, show that 42 cents of every dollar, with 29 cents to defense, involve direct benefit payments to individuals." Much of this was attributable to social security, 25% of the total revenue.

Elazar astutely notes on p. 95 (they don't make academics like Elazar much anymore):

"All modern governments provide income security or maintenance benefits in some form. Federal systems are likely to provide such programs through some kind of sharing arrangement. It does not follow automatically from the acceptance of the idea of income maintenance as a government function that it must be primarily a federal one. In a federal system, the choice is open. Canadians, for example have given primary responsibility in this field to the provinces."

Federalization leads to competitive lobbying (p. 98):

"...the key to the acquisition of federal benefits is intensive state and local activity to secure those benefits. The better a state is able to function as a coordinated civil society, the more likely it is to obtain a large share of federal expenditures to stimulate its economy. California and Texas--both virtually self-governing commonwealths in many ways, with strong traditions of intrastate cohesiveness vis-a-vis the outside world--stand as the most successful examples of the truth of this rule."

States have separate characteristics as political systems and so adapt national programs to their own needs. The three factors that shape states' political behavior are:
-political culture (the pattern of orientation to political action)
-sectionalism (the ties that link together groups of contiguous states)
-the frontier--the constant effort of Americans to extend their control over their environment and the consequent periodic reorganization of American social and settlement patterns (p. 109)

The two cultural patterns of American politics are marketplace and commonwealth.

Four consideration (what Elazar somewhat airily calls "the matrix of value concepts) are efficiency, commerce, legitimacy, and agrarianism. Elazar points out that the definition of efficiency has changed from hierarchical ordering to the "decentralized conglomeration of synergistic organizations controlled on the basis of measures of their output. In sum, both efficiency and commerce are primarily related to the concerns of power and its management."

There are three political cultures (pp. 114-16) in America, the individualistic, the moralistic and the traditionalist.

Under individualism, the democratic order is a marketplace. It emphasizes private concerns and limits community intervention. Politics is a business. "Where the norms are high, such people are expected to provide high quality government services in the best possible manner. "political based on a system of mutual obligations rooted in personal relationships." Office holding is a way to obtain rewards. Politics is a specialized profession. Individualist political cultures often view politics as dirty. Bureaucracy interferes with the favor system, but it is efficient, so individualist cultures are ambivalent about it.

The moralistic political culture emphasizes the "commonwealth conception" (p. 117). "Both the general public and the politicians conceive of politics as a public activity centered on some notion of the public good and properly devoted to the advancement of the public interest...Communal power intervenes into the sphere of private activities...issues have an important place...Government service is public service...By virtue of its fundamental outlook, the moralistic political culture creates a greater commitment to active government intervention in the economic and social life of the community. At the same time, the strong commitment to communitarian characteristics of that political culture tends to channel the interest in government intervention."

The traditionalistic culture "is rooted in an ambivalent attitude toward the marketplace coupled with a paternalistic and elitist conception of the commonwealth." Government actively tries to maintain the existing social order...Political parties are of minimal importance...because they encourage a degree of openness...Political competition is usually conducted through factional alignments". Initiation of new programs occurs only if it benefits the governing elite.

The three political subcultures arose because of sociocultural differences among the people who came to America. "Because the various ethnic and religious groups that came to these shores tended to congregate in their own settlements and because, as they or their descendants moved westward, they continued to settle together, the political patterns they bore with them are today distributed geographically.

There have been three stages of the frontier (p. 123): the rural-land frontier; the urban industrial frontier, "which began in the Northeast and spread westward, transforming the society into an industrial society. "By the mid-twentieth century, it had given birth, in turn, to the metropolitan-technological frontier, which is characterized by the radical reordering of an industrial society through rapidly changing technologies and a settlement pattern that encourages the diffusion of an urbanized population within large metropolitan regions. These radically new technologies, ranging from ato9mic energy and automation to synthetics and cybernetics, and the accompanying suburbanization of the population, influenced further changes in the nation's landscape."

"By 1980, however, there were signs that a new frontier stage was emerging based on the cybernetic technologies--minicomputers, satellite-transmitted communications, cable television and new data processing devices--fostered a settlement pattern of large belts of relatively small cities."

Elazar traces the flow of different ethnic groups across the US beginning with settlement in New England in the 1600s and has an amazing map on pp. 128-9 that illustrates immigration flow across the nation of the moralistic, individualistic and traditionalistic cultures. The moralistic is from New England, the traditionalistic from the South and the individualistic from the Atlantic State including lower New York but not eastern Long Island.

He writes (p. 134):

"The amalgam of the political subcultures in the several states is varied, because representatives of each are found within every state to varying degrees. In fact, unique aggregations of cultural patterns are clearly discernible in every state. These cultural patterns give each state its particular character..."

(p. 138) Sectionalism involves arrangement of much greater permanence, which as essentially political phenomena, link whole states and persist despite the emergence of immediate conflicts or divergences...

"...for our purposes, certain common sectional bonds give the states of each section a special relationship to national politics...The nation's sectional alignments are rooted in the three great historical cultural and economic spheres into which the country is divided: the greater Northeast, the greater South, and the greater West."

"The sections reflect the thrust of the frontier. But "each has sufficient diversity to reflect the social and economic complexity of the nation as a whole" (p. 140)

"Roughly speaking the individualist political culture proceeds westward along the northern edge of the center of population line..."

p. 140: "From the New Deal years through the 1960s, Americans' understanding of sectionalism was submerged by their concern with urban-oriented socioeconomic categories, such as the struggle between labor and management or between the haves and have-nots in the big cities...The widespread but erroneous notion that sectionalism had all but disappeared was based, in part, on the myth that sections in the nineteenth-century heyday of sectionalism were separated by different public concerns. In truth, they shared the same universal concerns then, and their differences then as now, stemmed from differing attitudes toward those concerns and differing notions of how to deal with them. Beginning in the 1970s, however, there was a resurgence of sectional feeling as economic social cleavages increasingly came to follow sectional lines. The sun belt-frost belt contribution is the prime example of this new sectionalism..." (p. 141)

"The moralistic political culture is the primary source of the continuing American quest for the good society...The individualistic culture is the most tolerant of out-and-out political corruption, yet it has also provided the framework for the integration of diverse groups into the mainstream of American life.

(p. 150): "The juxtaposition of groups with different political cultures within the same political system, a product of the geology of cultural diffusion in the United States, has invariably led to some form of cultural conflict with many of the states."

(p. 152) "...political culture and conflicts between political cultures influence political behavior in the states" and so "become important in determining state responses to national politics.

"Citizen participation in politics as measured by voter turnout clearly reflects the different predispositions in the 50 states and their particular political cultures. It is reasonably clear that people who believe that they can accomplish something positive through the political process are more likely to vote and otherwise become active in politics. Thus, it would be natural for moralistic types to be most active...In presidential elections, states of the moralistic political culture consistently lead in percentage of voters turning out."

(p. 157) "Political culture also influences voting behavior itself, though usually in less clear-cut ways than it influences electoral competition. The reaon for this is that the two-party system, by reducing voter alternatives, tends to bring together voters who support particular parties or candidates for many different reasons. Nevertheless, there are moments in the electoral process when political cultural differences stand out in bold relief."

Progressivism involved more heavily emphasizing the moralistic political culture than had been true in the 19th century (p. 160):

"in the late nineteenth and early twentietch centuries, before the New Deal, there was often a great deal of conflict betweeen the policies their representatives advcoated and those adopted by the federal government. These states were in the forefront of the third-party movements appearing and reappearing at all levels of government in the two generations following the Civil War. A roster of the nation's Progressive leaders is heavily weighted with the names of their representatives. Under the right circumstances, the old Populist-Progressive bloc periodically reappears. thus, the first outspoken senatorial opponents of American involvement in Vietnam came, with a few exceptions, from the tier of states stretching from Wisconsin to Orgeon that produced the "sons of the wild jackass" two and three generations ago. William Proxmire (Wisconsin), Eugene McCarthy (Minnesota), George McGovern (South Dakota) and Wayne Morse (Oregon) exemplified this bloc throughout the 1960s."

(p. 161) "The states least unified internally are those that have strong competing cultural currents within their limits. In general, they are also least differentiated from national patterns in policy matters and tend to be dominated by the individualistic political culture. The individualistic-dominated states are almost invariably two-party states...The apparent liberalism of the dominant political forces in these states today is often a reflection of perceived economic self-interest rather than a commitment to any abstract principles or social welfare or reform."

The Supreme Court has tended to give "those interested in expanding federal power a green light."

For example, since 1962 the United States Supreme Court has taken it upon itself to act as the ultimate arbiter of the very basis of legislative representation--the drawing of electoral districts...One of the major blows at state integrity has been the Supreme Court's limitation of state responsibility for the organization and regulation of the party system. In the past, that responsibility strengthened the role of party politics as a guarantor of state integrity. Given formal status through state law in the first instance, the party system has been legitimized only tangentially through judicial interpretation or even federal legislation.

Meanwhile, p. 178, "The discretionary rule-making power of federal administrative agencies has been substantially increased, to the pont where their rule-making activities have as much or greater effect on state-federal relations than formal legislation and judicial interpretation. The sheer mass of federal business has made this necessary. Congress can, at best, set forth the general guidelines for implementing federal-state programs

Two kinds of interference: "Best known is the formal system of legislative oversight...This has given the states an important line of access to national policy." (p. 178).

"The congressional committees have become focal points for the combination of interests and actors that has come to be known as the iron triangle or the unholy trinity, depending on one's perspective. That is to say, the complex of interest groups, congressional forces and federal offices concerned with a particular game or set of programs directed to some common end. The elements in this complex reenforce one another in pursuit of their common goals. The multiplication of these iron trinagles and the power each has by virtue of its ability to link constituents, legislators and administrators in a common enterprise are major reasons why federal programs have proliferated."

(p. 192) "The one major addition to the written Constitution that has had profound effects on the position of the states in the federal union is the package of Civil War amendments, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth. That package formally ratified the supremacy of the national government along the lines set forth in federalist political theory as embraced by the Yankee North.

From 1948 to 1981, a period of 33 years, state revenues grew from $10.1 billion to $189.6 billion.

p. 239: "Three generations ago and more, Americans would probably have thought it strange to think of interests aligning themselves with specific planes of government. During the nineteenth century, when cooperative federalism revolved around land grants and joint stock companies, all planes of government were involved in the same programs. Sharing then, like sharing now, prevented a serious alignment of interests on government planes. Despite all myths to the contrary, both northern abolitionists and southern slave owners appealed to all three planes of government at various times to support their respective positions.

"It was only with the rise of labor-management antagonism that the notion of separate appeals came to the fore. Even then, at the beginning both inerests found similar kinds of support or antagonism on both the federal and state planes No continuing differences developed until the 1930s, when the federal government under Democratic control adopted an open prolabor position. The industrialists then fell back on the states, since they were able to retain influence in at least some of them. Since the labor-management question loomed so large among the public concerns of the 1930s, the consequences that flowed from it were raised by political analysts from the level of the specific issue that spawned them to the basis for sweeping generalizations about the political system. Hence the notion of separate appeals, valid in this issue, was raised to the level of generalization.

"Labor and management have made their appeals on the basis of an immediate multiplicity of specific interests rather than in reference to one overriding concern at least since the mid 1950s. This meant the end of division by plane Management found a sympathetic administration in Washington under President Eisenhower, and organized labor, though still strongly in favor of active federal intervention in the nation's domestic affairs, discovered that it neglected the states at its own peril...

"The 1960s saw the end of the state-oriented ideology of business. As the business community finally came to recognize that active federal involvement in the regulation of commerce in its several forms was here to stay, they began to realize that, from its point of view, if regulation was to come in any case, it was better to have federal rather than state regulation. Federal regulation meant 1 set of rules or standards rather than 50 and, even more importantly, federal rules represent a compromise between stringent regulation and minimal regulation. At least some states--usually the largest and most powerful ones--tend to establish more stringent rules or set higher standards.

"The moment of truth for the business community came with the struggle over federal automobile safety regulation in 1966. The auto industry began their fight against federal action with traditional calls for the protection of the states' rights. Howver, they came to recognize that California and New York (which together constitute some 20 percent of the American automobile market) were exercising their rights to set higher safety standards than those being considered in Congress. The industry then shifted gears and demanded preemptive federal regulation--that is to say, federal regulation shaped to their taste. This would also prohibit the states from regulating at all in the auto safety field, thereby eliminating the higher demands of California and new York and an increasing number of smaller states that were following their lead. The automobile industry pressed for minimal federal standards. When the auto industry won most of what it wanted, other industries adopted the same strategy.

"Those interested in strong regulation, recognizing the changed situation, are turning, ableit hesitantly, away from tehir ideological commitment to federal action and are supporting higher state standards as a way to outflank business pressures. This is particualrly evident among environmentalists. When Congress began to set federal environmental pollution standards, California successfully led the supporters of more stringent controls in a fight to gain exemption

...Minnesota's efforts to establish higher standards of purity for the discharge of waters passing through nuclear power generating plants were rejected by the US Supreme Court on the grounds of federal preemption, in a manner reminiscent of the Fuller Court's restrictions on state efforts to protect workers and consumers in the 1890s.

"On the other hand, the Court sustained Montana's 30 percent severance tax. This tax was levied on coal mines and was designed to give the state fair compensation for the strip mining permitted by the federal government.

"Most recently, the drive for satisfaction on the local plane rather than from Washington has come from among the poor, the black, the young--and most recently, the liberals--groups clearly associated with the profederal alliance in the past. They are now discovering htat community self-governance as well as bureaucratic support is needed to build a stisfying life and that the states can serve as vehicles for expressing their demands even when the federal government is hostile."

p. 242: "To the extent that the federal character of the American system has been damaged, the courts are the principal cources of that damage."

The first shift in federalism "happened in the generation between 1816 and 1848, when joint fiscal management and joint stock companies for internal improvements gave way to land grants. The second took place in the generation between 1877 and 1913, when land grants gave way to cash grants. Now the move seems to be in the direction of new relationships in the field of governmental regulation. The first two periods were clearly oriented toward intergovernmental cooperation in developing an infrastructure for national and regional development. The third shifted focus to include the provision of public services on a cooperative basis. Now the country is moving in the direction of using government to control outcomes and the issue is how the various planes of government can or will cooperate. p. 253

The chief threat to federalism is the US Supreme Court. "Central to these dangers is the apparent abandonment of restraint by the US Supreme Court in matters that affect the integrity of the states and localities. The Court's actions are not designed to be antifederalist. Quite to the contrary, whenever it has addressed the issue of federalism directly, as in the Usery case, it has emphasized the importance of maintaining the integrity of the states...

But its inconsistency and some would say sheer lack of proper understanding of federal principles--or even lack of clearheadedness at times--have had that effect. In decision after decision where the Court has been interested in other issues, usually those of individual rights and sometimes of environmental protection, it has either ignored the institutional needs of the states and localities or the fefderal principle of comity on behalf of abstract principles.

p. 254 A parallel problem is athe new kind of hierarchical thinking that has spread among certain influential circles in American society. It sees the federal system as a pyramid...This image, drawn from teh organizational theories of the first half of the twentieth century embraced then by the business community but now being questioned in those quarters, is radically different from the understanding of the intergovernmental partnership of the past...While sharing was the norm and federal initiatives were vital to the development of new government activities from the earliest days of the federal republic, political leaders and federal administrators alike viewed the role of the federal government as one of assistor to the states, not as their superior. The federal role was designed to be stimulatory, not to supercede state efforts. Federal officials were to be advisers to their state counterparts, albeit advisers who could set standards to follows. Many Republicans who advocate decentralization and greater reliance on the states have shown that they are thinking in terms quite as hierarchical as their Democratic counterparts who desire greater federal activity...Hierarchical thinking is responsible for the worst aspects of concentrated cooperation whereby federal aid is used to supercede the states rather than stimulate them to act...

"There is no better example of this than the history of the voting rights amendments of 1970. These extended the franchise to those 18 years old and over in all elections--federal, state and local--by legislative fiat after it had become apparent that, where the issue had been submitted to voters of the states, it had failed more often than not. The sheer willingness to ignore both public action and constitutional requirements simultaneously can only be explained by the existence of a pervasive feeling that "Washington knows best"--hierarchical thinking in its most extreme form.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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