Sunday, March 27, 2005

Law school is designed to make you question a lot of assumptions, which is pretty dangerous for me because my general tendency is to hold my assumptions pretty loosely anyway, and so at any given time it's probably a little too easy to convince of just about anything--at least for a couple of minutes.

However, we're doing a unit on the commerce clause and federalism right now, and it is pretty much serving only to strength one of my beliefs about political systems: I really don't like a federal system as compared to a province or department system, where smaller units are basically just administrative units of the main government. There are about 5 powers I trust states with, and that's if you count issuing license plates and driver's licenses as 2 separate ones. If at any given time I've been to the DMV lately, that list may diminish to 3 or fewer.

I have no problem with expansive national authority, for a couple of reasons. One is that our system has enough checks and balances within the national government to prevent (or at least ameliorate and eventually overturn) serious abuses of power. Two is I distrust government power less than most Americans seem to. Three is that I think some concentration of power is politically valuable--if you know who is making decisions, it's easier to hold that body or person accountable than it is when power is more diffuse. (Admittedly, this sounds like a critique of the administrative state, which I don't mind, but I need to think more about why.) Also, along those same lines, I think it's easier for people to participate in politics when there is less proliferation of elections and offices--if you know there's one election that really matters, you're more likely to participate than you are in 10 elections each of which seems to matter a little, if at all. Finally, I'd like to think we'd be a bit more careful about picking our national leadership if states weren't diluting its effects. Obviously, this is a period of time where I'm all about states ameliorating the effects of the national administration--but I'd like to think that if they couldn't do that, then California and New York (among others) would be more assertive in shouting down Mississippi and Utah on the national stage. (Which leads me to a separate rant about California and Wyoming having the same number of Senators, but I'll save that for another day, if at all.)

When it comes down to it, I'm more of a realist than a formalist when it comes to political power. We used to think states were really important back in the 19th century, and that's cute and quaint. Then we became a major international power, and it was time for states to shut up and deal with the need for central government, regardless of technical arguments about reserved, granted, and enumerated powers. I'm willing to entertain the notion that in a post-modern, post-industrial age it's more useful to have power more dispersed again; that said, I'm only willing to entertain those arguments based on expediency, and not because of original intent or any other backward-looking dogma.

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