Think of states’ rights. I bet the majority of you are conjuring up some vision of a red neck holding a Confederate flag. Or perhaps these days you are thinking about crazy people in Utah calling for more respect of the 10th amendment and the adoption of gold and silver as currency.
Well, like most political slogans, states’ rights has some baggage, perhaps an unusual amount given this country’s horrible history of race relations. But it is time to resurrect the idea that everybody is better off if we give more space to state and local governments to pass laws without federal interference.
Let me start off by addressing three areas where the left generally favors state and local rights against federal overreach.
1)Sanctuary cities. There are literally scores of sanctuary cities across the country. In general, the purpose of a sanctuary city is to provide a “safe haven” where local governments will not cooperate with the federal government in enforcing federal immigration law. In practice, the feds often ignore such rules and carry out raids to round up illegal immigrants, even in sanctuary cities. There are extremely complex legal issues involved, but in general I favor (and I think all people should favor) empowering localities to develop their own laws regarding the kinds of people they want living in their cities.
2)Medical marijuana. There is a direct conflict between federal laws against marijuana and state laws legalizing medical marijuana. In Colorado, for example, this has led to people getting arrested by the feds for growing marijuana that is legal according to state law. Again, I would hope most people could agree that the people of Colorado should have the right to decide how to deal with marijuana laws.
3)Localized currencies: Berkshares. A group of mostly left-wing people in the Berkshires region of Massachusetts has set up their own currency. Yes, it is true, this whole alternate currency idea is not confined to crazy people in Utah. The non-profit group prints out its own currency, which is accepted by a long list of local companies. The currency does not pretend to be federal specie, but it nevertheless competes with US government money, and the plan is to do a lot more. Berkshares, recognizing that the value of the dollar is plummeting, wants to set up a basket of local commodities grown in the Berkshire area. Their want their currency to be based on the value of this local commodity basket as an inflation hedge. What they are seeing is that commodities are increasing in price, but the U.S. dollar is declining in value. Whether or not you think this is a good idea in the long run (it is true that commodities also decrease in value), the point is that I believe Berkshares should have the right to do what it wants without federal interference.
I hope I have convinced you that there are plenty of causes on the left where people want local control. And this is basic common sense: people in general like to be left alone. Local areas have special needs. People are different in different areas, with their own cultural pecularities and causes.
And this is exactly the vision that the founders had of the U.S. government. Reading the Federalist papers, it is clear that states were to be given control over most issues and that the federal government was to be relatively small. Even Alexander Hamilton, the leading proponent of federal power among the Founders, said in Federalist #28 that “the State governments will, in all possible contingencies, afford complete security against invasions of the public liberty by the national authority.” The vision of the Founders was that individual colonies were different and that local self-government would avoid conflicts and allow people to govern themselves as they wished.
Obviously the Civil War, Jim Crow and an ever-expanding federal government has changed this. My argument is that we need to put those issues behind us and concentrate on increasing local and state power, which is more in line with the Founders’ vision.
Let me offer some things for my friends on the left to consider. You want a single-payer medical system? You are much more likely to get it on a state level than on a federal level. Are you concerned about some Republican right-winger destroying abortion rights? Again, promote states’ ability to pass their own laws. I am generally in favor of more restrictive abortion laws (although I personally favor abortion rights in many instances), but I think such laws should be passed on the state, not the federal, level. If you favor gay marriage, you should be ecstatic that so many states are now allowing gays to marry.
Studying the death penalty, I think we see the power of states’ rights. After reversing itself on the legality of the death penalty, the Supreme Court has basically left it to each state to pass its own laws. And the reality is that capital punishment is a much less contentious issue than, say, Obamacare and abortion. Why? Because the people in each state can influence their state legislature to change laws in the direction they want, which is much easier to do than passing federal legislation.
So, get those images of red necks with Confederate flags out of your heads. States and localities should be given more power in a wide variety of areas. This should be something people of all political persuasions can agree on.