Is Federalism Practical Today?

Kevin Price, USDR Publisher and Editor in Chief, Column from the Huffington Post.

The question of whether “federalism” as handed down to us by those who founded this country, seems odd. We have not seen any practical application of it for years.

“Restoring the Constitution” is a phrase that is catching on with people as the influence of the tea party has grown. So is “federalism,” as people lament a national government that seems to have become out of control and is spiraling our nation into a downfall. But many also wonder what, exactly, do these concepts mean?

Many have dropped the term “conservative” altogether, because there is really very little left to “conserve” these days. Taxes, regulation and spending are out of control and the other institutions that have supported our liberties are either being abused or are in decline. Is it any surprise that the conservative message falls on deaf ears? The U.S. is on the fast track towards a country that is heavily controlled and lacking in liberty. We need a different paradigm to put our nation back on track. That is where the term “restoration” comes to mind. The United States has lost sight of the things that have made it among the most free and prosperous country in the history of the world.

To “restore the Constitution,” we would have to review at the things the government can and cannot do according to our founding document. Article I, Section 8 lists the 17 powers specifically enumerated to the federal government. All of these things are important and the government’s function in these areas was suppose to be strong, in order to protect the liberties of every American. Some of the things allowed include standard weights and measures, coining money, post offices and post roads, the protection of intellectual property and a national defense. Beyond these and a few other very specific items, there was not much for which the federal government was responsible when the country was founded.

So how did new medicines get regulated? How would certain industries be licensed? What about the many other things done today by the federal government, who would do them? This is where we get to the idea of “federalism.” You see how it was designed to work clearly in the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” That word, reserved, speaks of exclusivity. This was not a preferential view of public policy (“it would be best if the states and people took care of these things”), but a mandate (if it is not listed in the U.S. Constitution, it is for the states and the people).

The vast majority of regulations that exist through our state governments came into place from states watching the works of one another. With the many states, our country had a vibrant laboratory with new ideas being brought to the surface and each state emulated those laws that worked best. This system worked very well. As the rest of Western civilization largely limped through the 19th Century with stagnant economies and governments in excess, the U.S. was a vibrant powerhouse that focused on industry and innovation. Government did not get in the way, but largely cleared… (read more)

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.
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