"In short, the objective of the libertarian is to confine any existing State to as small a degree of invasion of person and property as possible."
~ Murray Rothbard, Ethics of Liberty
Does it not seem wrong that the mere few hundred politicians in the Federal Government have the power to control 300 million people and influence, either directly or indirectly, the entire planet? Even though the state is unjustified, inconsistent, immoral and inefficient, we should still favor maximum decentralization of power but not because local government is somehow "better" or less evil. Rather, we ought to favor decentralization because governmental flaws and inherent corruption can be geographically limited, and the amount of damage they inflict remains within its jurisdiction. Those outside the scope of a local government are not affected, whereas those within its scope can find it easier to escape.
Under a Jeffersonian heterogeneous and decentralized hierarchy of power, life in the U.S. could have been quite different. Left alone by the Feds, each of the sovereign states might have had vastly different laws. Indeed, Anthony Gregory correctly points out that "many if not most political tensions would be decentralized down to the state level, and after that, competition and experimentation among states would likely point the way to the benefits of liberalizing and shrinking government at all levels."
The situation today, however, is totally different. The once sovereign states have now been homogenized by the Federal Government, becoming its administrative arms. No longer is there a major difference between one place and another. Yes, I am aware that some states have significantly smaller governments with less taxation and lower regulations. And granted, one should not have to move to another place to enjoy freedom just like one should not have to move out of one’s home to avoid a burglar. Yet the unconstitutional departments and programs coming from Washington are so overweening, intrusive and inexorably expansive that it would be preferable to at least have a choice amongst states. Alas, no longer can we vote with our feet.
Under proper federalism, families and groups would decide which style of government best suits them. I do not advocate statism but instead recognize that, lacking a central authority, the local governments would be free to experiment with policies. Don’t like California’s socialist leanings? Move to New Hampshire. Want to carry concealed guns without a permit? Move to Alaska or Vermont. If you don’t like firearms, move to Chicago or D.C. For those who want a nanny environment with heavy business regulations, try Massachusetts. For better or worse, state laws generally do not cross borders, and their effects are limited. The Feds no longer allow even a limited freedom of movement. Everywhere you go you find the war on terror, the war on drugs, Social Security, income tax, fiat currency and inflation, and an interminable number of abominable and centralist boils of welfare-warfare pus. The only day-to-day sign that your state is part of the Union should be the occasional Post Office, which should not even enjoy a legal monopoly.
Federalism was, thus, an attempt to keep the burgeoning central power away from local life. There is no perfect system, but by exposing failures locally, there can at least be the freedom to avoid bad governments and pursue better ones. Who knows what the outcome would have been had federalism been kept alive, but one thing is certain: it would have been better than what we have today. Instead of fifty states, there is only one, and one is never a choice.
Ultimately, those who love liberty must favor decentralization of power because it is the path towards greater individual freedom and the respect of rights.
Manuel Lora [send him mail] is a freelance TV producer and multimedia specialist in New Orleans.