Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Government: Federalism

Federalism as defined by We The People, “is a system of government in which power is divided by a constitution, between the central government and the regional governments.” While we certainly still have a government where the power of the federal government and the power of the state and local governments is divided by the constitution, it is definitively different than that federalism originally conceived by the framers of our constitution. I would argue that the change from a more evenly distributed power, to that of a powerful federal government and a weaker state government is not beneficial to the American people or the government.

The framers originally sought to create a federal system where the central government would essentially share power with lower levels of government. However, it seems we are closer to a unitary system than a federal system as the central government makes the important decisions and the states have less and less independent power. Yet, we still call the American government a federal system.

Initially the idea of dual federalism, where both the national and state government had important but clearly separated powers was the prevailing view and practice. As time went on, after the New Deal, federalism changed into more of a cooperative federalism. That is, one in which state and national policies overlapped. They had less distinct roles as the national government encroached more upon the state and as the state took care of much of the national government’s programs. This, in my opinion, fundamentally changed the way the American government was run for the worse.

While some say this change was good because the “bubba system” or “good ole boys” often led states to make less wise decisions for the benefit of a few, I would argue that this same problem is prevalent in the national government. The difference is it can be much more dangerous and detrimental when these decisions affect the entire country instead of just a few states.

Categorical grants and grants in aid were huge factors in why the national government has slowly gained more and more power and the state government has slowly lost power, or rather given it up in exchange for aid. These grants often rewarded states for following national guidelines, enforcing laws, and running national programs. While these programs were not mandatory the aids provided significant reason for state’s to employ them, thus giving the national government control over much of the states actions.

In the 1980s, there was an increase in unfunded mandates. Here, states were forced to comply with national regulations or new conditions and programs that actually ended up costing them money and resources for which they were not reimbursed. Thus the national government essentially gained even more control over the states, while the state government did not really gain from the situation at all. Block grants did attempt to return rights to the states as the national government allowed the states to choose how the funds were spent. This new federalism did allow the states more control, however the simple fact that the national government is allowing the state this control instead of the state simply having that power in the first place, shows us just how far from the original federalism our government has come.

I find the changes in federalism hard to support as it gives so much power to the national government and increasingly sneaks it away from the state and local governments. While it does make it much easier to enact national programs that may benefit all the states, it also takes away state rights and makes it much easier for corruption to seep in. Grants in aid in exchange for implementing national ideals seems less like the state and national government keeping each other accountable and working together and more like the national government superseding the state government, thus I do not support the majority of the change.

“The Federalist Structure of the US Government,” Florida International University. http://www2.fiu.edu/~ganapati/3003/federalism.html, 9/29/2016.
Anneberg Learner, “Federalism: US v. the states.” Anneberg Foundation, 2016. http://www.learner.org/courses/democracyinamerica/dia_3/dia_3_topic.html, 9/29/2016.

Ginsberg, Benjamin., et all… “We The People.” New York. 2013. Print