Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Federalist No. 13 and Economies of Scale in Government

In the Federalist Number 13 Hamilton argues that an advantage to adoption of the Constitution and establishment of a unified nation as opposed to 13 separate states or three regional confederacies is efficiency that results from economies of scale. Hamilton argues:

"No well-informed man will suppose that the affairs of such a confederacy can be properly regulated by a government less comprehensive in its origins or institutions than that which has been proposed by the convention. When the dimensions of a State attain to a certain magnitude, it requires the same energy of government and the same forms of administration which are requisite in one of much greater extent."

Hamilton was right about the costs of government. The cost of governing 3 million people is much less than twice the cost of governing 1.5 million people. But Hamilton could not have foreseen the increasingly strategic role that government plays in economic development. That is, a range of federal policies restrict and influence business decision making in ways that Hamilton could not have foreseen. These include the creation of money, the social security system, funding of urban renewal, health plans for the elderly. Hamilton did advocate central banking and federal involvement in the economy, such as the creation of a state manufacturing incubator, but he could not have imagined the degree to which government influences economic behavior in our world.

The choice between centralization and decentralization involves two considerations: the economies of scale that Hamilton identified, and the creativity and experimentation that decentralization permits. Thirteen states permit thirteen approaches to regulation. Two or three confederacies would permit two or three approaches. Diversity of strategies permit comparisons and learning. Hamilton was right with respect to the Constitution, but he overstates the value of economies of scale as they might apply to our world.

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