Monday, June 16, 2008

Publius on Localization of America

Let's do a thought experiment. Let's say the federal government agreed to download most of its responsibilities, such as social security, taxation, education (oh, I thought that was a state responsibility), medical care for the elderly, regulation of labor and industry and similar responsibilities onto the states. The states would have the power to reform or discard any or all of the progressive, New Deal and Great Society bureaucracies.

Continuing the thought experiment, under such a localization policy, some states might opt for greater freedom of enterprise and laissez faire. Other states might opt for subsidization of business, a central bank like the Fed, and eminent domain to subsidize real estate developers. Still other states might opt for governmental redistribution of wealth to enable the poor to contribute productively. It is likely that one of these models would be most successful. Would the successful states incur the unsuccessful states' wrath?

In the Federalist Papers number five (by Jay) and six and seven (by Hamilton) Publius, the pseudonym for Jay, Hamilton and Madison, addresses this question. Publius's argument is that decentralization will create animosity among the states or local confederacies of states. In Number 5, Publius (Jay) argues that "they ...would in no other sense be neighbors as they would be borderers." In turn, border conflicts and hatreds leading to war would evolve.

In Number Seven Publius (Hamilton) argues that:

Competition of commerce would be another fruitful source of contention. The States less favorably circumstanced would be desirous of escaping from the disadvantages of local situation, and of sharing in the advantages of their more fortunate neighbors. Each State, or separate confederacy, would pursue a system of commercial policy peculiar to itself."

States, muses Hamilton, might pass laws that justifiably benefit their own citizens, but in so doing incur the wrath of other states whose citizens are not benefited. An example might be tariffs set by coastal states like New York that expense inland states like Ohio. The result might be civil war.

The Constitution resolved the danger of warfare among the states. A decentralized system that relies on a federal government to resolve conflicts concerning interstate commerce, to set tariffs and conduct foreign policy, would be in keeping with the Constitution and permit improvement and modernization of decision making. A nation united by comparable values need not have but one bureaucracy.

It is likely that the most successful states, which I would guess would be the ones that adopted laissez faire policies, would incur the wrath of other states. But the magnificence of decentralization is that the wrath could be converted into productive action. States could learn from other states through mimesis. Thus, better and more productive methodologies would lead not to hatred and warfare, but rather to the spreading of ideas throughout the republic. Publius Wealth is not the result of resource endowment, but rather of human capital and technology. Greater diversity of experimentation from decentralization will reap benefits that far exceed the costs of multiple bureaucracies.

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