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Is America too big to govern?

Old 02-11-07, 07:39 PM
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Is America too big to govern?

I thought this piece was interesting:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/10/op...rs&oref=slogin

I'm not sure I agree with the premise of his thesis. Is federalism failing? Would splitting large states into smaller ones have any effect? He talks about devolution in countries like France and the U.K., but they have very top-down government, unlike the U.S.

Op-Ed Contributor
California Split

By GAR ALPEROVITZ
Published: February 10, 2007

Washington

SOMETHING interesting is happening in California. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to have grasped the essential truth that no nation — not even the United States — can be managed successfully from the center once it reaches a certain scale. Moreover, the bold proposals that Mr. Schwarzenegger is now making for everything from universal health care to global warming point to the kind of decentralization of power which, once started, could easily shake up America’s fundamental political structure.

Governor Schwarzenegger is quite clear that California is not simply another state. “We are the modern equivalent of the ancient city-states of Athens and Sparta,” he recently declared. “We have the economic strength, we have the population and the technological force of a nation-state.” In his inaugural address, Mr. Schwarzenegger proclaimed, “We are a good and global commonwealth.”

Political rhetoric? Maybe. But California’s governor has also put his finger on a little discussed flaw in America’s constitutional formula. The United States is almost certainly too big to be a meaningful democracy. What does “participatory democracy” mean in a continent? Sooner or later, a profound, probably regional, decentralization of the federal system may be all but inevitable.

A recent study by the economists Alberto Alesina of Harvard and Enrico Spolaore of Tufts demonstrates that the bigger the nation, the harder it becomes for the government to meet the needs of its dispersed population. Regions that don’t feel well served by the government’s distribution of goods and services then have an incentive to take independent action, the economists note.

Scale also determines who has privileged access to the country’s news media and who can shape its political discourse. In very large nations, television and other forms of political communication are extremely costly. President Bush alone spent $345 million in his 2004 election campaign. This gives added leverage to elites, who have better corporate connections and greater resources than non-elites. The priorities of those elites often differ from state and regional priorities.

James Madison, the architect of the United States Constitution, understood these problems all too well. Madison is usually viewed as favoring constructing the nation on a large scale. What he urged, in fact, was that a nation of reasonable size had advantages over a very small one. But writing to Jefferson at a time when the population of the United States was a mere four million, Madison expressed concern that if the nation grew too big, elites at the center would divide and conquer a widely dispersed population, producing “tyranny.”

Few Americans realize just how huge this nation is. Germany could fit within the borders of Montana. France is smaller than Texas. Leaving aside three nations with large, unpopulated land masses (Russia, Canada and Australia), the United States is geographically larger than all the other advanced industrial countries taken together. Critically, the American population, now roughly 300 million, is projected to reach more than 400 million by the middle of this century. A high Census Bureau estimate suggests it could reach 1.2 billion by 2100.

If the scale of a country renders it unmanageable, there are two possible responses. One is a breakup of the nation; the other is a radical decentralization of power. More than half of the world’s 200 nations formed as breakaways after 1946. These days, many nations — including Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Italy and Spain, just to name a few — are devolving power to regions in various ways.

Decades before President Bush decided to teach Iraq a lesson, George F. Kennan worried that what he called our “monster country” would, through the “hubris of inordinate size,” inevitably become a menace, intervening all too often in other nations’ affairs: “There is a real question as to whether ‘bigness’ in a body politic is not an evil in itself, quite aside from the policies pursued in its name.”

Kennan proposed that devolution, “while retaining certain of the rudiments of a federal government,” might yield a “dozen constituent republics, absorbing not only the powers of the existing states but a considerable part of those of the present federal establishment.”

Regional devolution would most likely be initiated by a very large state with a distinct sense of itself and aspirations greater than Washington can handle. The obvious candidate is California, a state that has the eighth-largest economy in the world.

If such a state decided to get serious about determining its own fate, other states would have little choice but to act, too. One response might be for an area like New England, which already has many regional interstate arrangements, to follow California’s initiative — as it already has on some environmental measures. And if one or two large regions began to take action, other state groupings in the Northwest, Southwest and elsewhere would be likely to follow.

A new wave of regional devolution could also build on the more than 200 compacts that now allow groups of states to cooperate on environmental, economic, transportation and other problems. Most likely, regional empowerment would be popular: when the Appalachian Regional Commission was established in 1965, senators from across the country rushed to demand commissions to help the economies and constituencies of their regions, too.

Governor Schwarzenegger may not have thought through the implications of continuing to assert forcefully his “nation-state” ambitions. But he appears to have an expansive sense of the possibilities: this is the governor, after all, who brought Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain to the Port of Long Beach last year to sign an accord between California and Britain on global warming. And he may be closer to the mark than he knows with his dream that “California, the nation-state, the harmonious state, the prosperous state, the cutting-edge state, becomes a model, not just for the 21st-century American society, but for the larger world.”
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Old 02-11-07, 07:53 PM
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And it is interesting to note that the EU is the exact opposite of what he is proposing. Independent nations giving up some control to create a new trans-European "federal" authority to give some uniformity across borders of relatively small nations and to have a greater regional or bloc-economic power.

And the other counterexample is the Balkans, splitting into ever-smaller, less-important nations because the varied groups within the old boundaries can't get along with each other.

I have to conclude, with little added thought beyond those two observations, that this idea sucks.
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Old 02-11-07, 07:59 PM
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If the scale of a country renders it unmanageable, there are two possible responses. One is a breakup of the nation; the other is a radical decentralization of power.

Kennan proposed that devolution, “while retaining certain of the rudiments of a federal government,” might yield a “dozen constituent republics, absorbing not only the powers of the existing states but a considerable part of those of the present federal establishment.”
One could suggest that the Constitution was already written this way and the abuse of federal power is what has gotten us to the point we are at.
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Old 02-11-07, 09:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Venusian
One could suggest that the Constitution was already written this way and the abuse of federal power is what has gotten us to the point we are at.

Thank you.

You can blame FDR for that and the justices that he appointed.
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Old 02-11-07, 09:27 PM
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I think it allows the states to relinquish it under the 10th amendment. I think a lot of it wasn't explicitly relinquished.
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Old 02-11-07, 10:08 PM
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the original intent of the framers was for the federal government to perform things that a central government performs like defense, foreign policy, currency, etc.

things like health care were never part of the framers' intent and should not be done at the federal level. the whole idea is for states to try some things themselves as a testing ground for new things.

NY Times op-ed have always and will most likely always be idiots unless the new billionaire owner fixes things
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Old 02-11-07, 11:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Red Dog
Thank you.

You can blame FDR for that and the justices that he appointed.
I don't think the 17th Amendment did us any favors in that regard either.
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Old 02-11-07, 11:37 PM
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This doesn't bode well for the one-world government idea the conspiracy theorists have been warning me about.
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Old 02-11-07, 11:59 PM
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Apparently the US has already been split up.

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Old 02-12-07, 09:16 AM
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Originally Posted by Numanoid
This doesn't bode well for the one-world government idea the conspiracy theorists have been warning me about.
What other purpose could black helicopters serve, huh? HUH?
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Old 02-12-07, 09:24 AM
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Oh my God. A state tries to solve its own problem on its own. The country may be falling apart!!!11111



Seems perfectly natural and part of how the country was founded. I'm in favor of the federal government doing something about the healthcare crisis in this country, but if they won't or can't why shouldn't states take matters into their own hands?
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Old 02-12-07, 09:27 AM
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Originally Posted by Venusian
One could suggest that the Constitution was already written this way and the abuse of federal power is what has gotten us to the point we are at.
That makes sense to me. Of course, the states are complicit as well- they could flex their muscle a lot more than they actually do.
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Old 02-12-07, 09:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Tracer Bullet
That makes sense to me. Of course, the states are complicit as well- they could flex their muscle a lot more than they actually do.

they are afraid of losing the holy grail of federal matching funds and aid. the supreme court needs to strike down unfunded mandates

NY Times has always called for a strong federal government that does everything. now that some states are taking initiative the editorial board suddenly panics that their dreams are shattered
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Old 02-12-07, 09:38 AM
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"A government thats big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take it away"
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Old 02-12-07, 01:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Red Dog
Thank you.

You can blame FDR for that and the justices that he appointed.
Federal power has been growing since the day George Washington took the oath of office. FDR did represent a big leap forward, but I don't think it's fair to lay all of the blame at his feet.

And most nations that break up don't break up because they are too large -- they break up because of tensions between different ethnic or religious groups.
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Old 02-12-07, 01:50 PM
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Originally Posted by JasonF
Federal power has been growing since the day George Washington took the oath of office. FDR did represent a big leap forward, but I don't think it's fair to lay all of the blame at his feet.

That's because you applaud that leap.

OK - 90% of the blame goes to FDR, his SCt appointees, and Congressional New Deal-era Democrats. The remaining 10% of the blame goes to FDR's fifth cousin.
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Old 02-12-07, 02:04 PM
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I say we give it a shot. If it turns out to suck more than the current system (doubtful), we can always go back.
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Old 02-12-07, 02:16 PM
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Originally Posted by Red Dog
That's because you applaud that leap.

OK - 90% of the blame goes to FDR, his SCt appointees, and Congressional New Deal-era Democrats. The remaining 10% of the blame goes to FDR's fifth cousin.
Long before either Franklin or Teddy, we had already put down the Whiskey Rebellion; established a standing army; purchased Louisiana; fought the Mexican American War, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War; established and re-established a National Bank; and passed the Sherman Antitrust Act, among other things. Federal power has been growing since day one -- the Roosevelts just goosed it along (and I do agree that both were strong proponents of increasing the power of the federal government).
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Old 02-12-07, 02:35 PM
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One could argue that the federal interstate highway system (1956) has lead to a far greater consolidation of federal power than anything that FDR might have dreamed up in his New Deal.
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Old 02-12-07, 02:43 PM
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fannie mae and HUD is another one

almost every mortgage is funded by HUD or Fannie Mae or some government agency has a financial stake in it. if you don't follow all kinds of rules you don't get the money or you pay a very high interest rate.
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Old 02-12-07, 02:55 PM
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Originally Posted by NCMojo
One could argue that the federal interstate highway system (1956) has lead to a far greater consolidation of federal power than anything that FDR might have dreamed up in his New Deal.

And one could legitimately argue that the federal interstate highway system is a constitutional exercise of commerce and national defense powers of the federal government. Now the feds withholding highway funding to extract concessions from the states under the tax/spend clause is whole different ballgame.

The stuff FDR dreamed up was so far outside the bounds of commerce clause power that it was only until his SCt appointments swung the vote that these abuses were validated.
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