Federalism Isn’t Unfair

My latest for Learn Liberty looks at proposals for starting an equalization program to redistribute from rich to poor states in the U.S. and finds them wanting. Due to the audience for that blog, I kept that post nontechnical and brief. I'll reproduce part of it here and then elaborate on some of the complexities … Continue reading Federalism Isn’t Unfair

The Health Care Shell Game: Why Not Leave Policy to the States?

In my latest blog post for Learn Liberty, I take on arguments against decentralizing health care policy to the states on the grounds of fiscal capacity: So if federal ACA spending were cut or even zeroed out, why couldn’t states that like the legislation simply reinstate the same taxes and spending that the federal government … Continue reading The Health Care Shell Game: Why Not Leave Policy to the States?

How Decentralized Is Your State?

In the U.S., states have full authority over local government. Some states strictly centralize power and leave local government little to do. For instance, Hawaii has a single school district for the entire state, so that different localities cannot choose to spend different amounts on the government schools. Michigan effectively has a similar system, because … Continue reading How Decentralized Is Your State?

Constitutions and Secession

Constitute.org is a useful website designed by political scientists to let researchers search for and compare constitutional texts on particular topics. Here for instance is a search on secession clauses. Although one of the site's creators, Zachary Elkins, says that 22 states contemplate some process for state divorce, only three constitutions expressly authorize some part … Continue reading Constitutions and Secession

Changing American Views on Federalism

The Cato Institute has conducted a new poll of Americans' attitudes toward federalism. Apparently Americans have become much more favorable to federalism and decentralization over the past 40 years. The Cato Institute commissioned YouGov for the poll. They asked respondents questions about which level of government should have primary control over each issue area, using … Continue reading Changing American Views on Federalism

Vote Labour, Get SNP?

Since the Scottish independence referendum, the Scottish National Party has seen its membership treble and its poll ratings climb. This boost to pro-independence forces after their referendum failure departs from the script established in previous referendums on autonomy or independence. After the failed 1979 referendum on devolution (due to a turnout requirement - the measure … Continue reading Vote Labour, Get SNP?

“Fiscal Federalism, Jurisdictional Competition, and the Size of Government”

This paper of mine is now available online in Constitutional Political Economy. It empirically investigates competing theories of how fiscal federalism constrains government. The main conclusion is that different federal systems conform roughly to different theoretical models, with the U.S. - a bit surprisingly - coming closest to "market-preserving federalism." Some of the early findings … Continue reading “Fiscal Federalism, Jurisdictional Competition, and the Size of Government”

Why So Little Decentralization? Part Two: Secession Prevention

Having finally turned the corner on a brutal, 11-day (and counting) cold, I feel up to getting back to my blogging routine. First up: a followup to last month's post, "Why So Little Decentralization?" To review, that post posed a puzzle (a problem for political scientists to ponder, you might say). The puzzle is this: … Continue reading Why So Little Decentralization? Part Two: Secession Prevention

Why So Little Decentralization?

Some of these developing countries are both huge and ethnically and regionally diverse, India and Indonesia most notably. One might think that these governments would have even more reason to decentralize than would the governments of comparatively homogeneous Western democracies. Therefore, the relative lack of decentralization in developing countries remains a puzzle.

Is Decentralization Overrated?

I recently read Daniel Treisman's brilliant book, The Architecture of Government: Rethinking Political Decentralization. This book is particularly important for classical liberals who defend decentralization as an important institutional reform for promoting and protecting individual freedom. Treisman's thesis is essentially that decentralization is overrated. He doesn't argue that decentralization generally has bad consequences, even under … Continue reading Is Decentralization Overrated?

Working Papers on Federalism & Public Policy

I have just posted a couple of my working papers to SSRN for those who are interested. They are as follows: "Public Policy and Quality of Life: An Empirical Analysis of Interstate Migration, 2000-2012" Abstract: Individuals and households choose their political jurisdiction of residence on the basis of expected income differentials and jurisdiction-specific characteristics covered … Continue reading Working Papers on Federalism & Public Policy

Should State Parties Change Their Names?

In Canada, provincial parties are totally organizationally independent of federal parties and may not even have the same names. Thus, the British Columbia Liberal Party has generally been right-of-center, and British Columbia Liberals tend to vote Conservative at the federal level. Quebec Liberals have generally been more Quebec-nationalist/decentralist than the federal Liberals. Most provinces have … Continue reading Should State Parties Change Their Names?

The Economist on Catalan Independence

A pro-secession protest in Catalonia on September 11th brought out 8% of the region's entire population, The Economist reports. Opinion polls have support for independence at about half of the electorate, possibly more. The moderate nationalists in power in Catalonia have even radicalized their platform. In the past, Convergence and Unity was a moderate nationalist, … Continue reading The Economist on Catalan Independence

Two Cheers for the Seventeenth Amendment

Small-government types have often debated whether the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, establishing direct election of senators, is in part responsible for the decline of federalism in the U.S. I have long been skeptical of the 17th Amendment repeal movement, because Germany has a system in which states (Länder) elect senators (members of the … Continue reading Two Cheers for the Seventeenth Amendment

Ed Glaeser on Federal Mandates

Harvard economist Ed Glaeser weighs in on federal mandates in general: Although I am open to having state governments require more health coverage, I fear a federal government with too much power to control individual behavior. The track record of federal interventions in managing markets suggests a strong case for limiting that power. The question … Continue reading Ed Glaeser on Federal Mandates

A Win for Federalism

The Defense of Marriage Act, as many of you know, was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (decision here) and the issue is likely headed for the Supremes. I never liked DOMA and I welcome its demise. Regardless of your view of gay marriage, you have to applaud the … Continue reading A Win for Federalism

Federalism & Inequality, Part Two

In my last post on this topic, I described an ideal system of federalism and its advantages and disadvantages. One of the concerns that progressives often have about this kind of federalism, which I wish to take seriously, is that it will lead to a growing gap between the incomes of rich and poor regions … Continue reading Federalism & Inequality, Part Two

Federalism & Inequality, Part One

Constitutional debates swirling around the PPACA's individual mandate have much to do with federalism. The core issue the Supreme Court is addressing is whether the federal government has essentially unlimited authority in economic policy, or whether they are yet some areas of economic policy-making (such as whether to compel commerce) exclusive to the states. As … Continue reading Federalism & Inequality, Part One

Could a Scottish Secession Referendum Bring About Salutary Decentralization?

For all the usual association of independence movements with violence and "separatism," the fact is that secessionist movements in liberal democracies usually pursue their aims peacefully, through the democratic process, and central governments resolve not to use military force to prevent secession authorized by a democratic vote (imagine that!). Such is the case in Scotland, … Continue reading Could a Scottish Secession Referendum Bring About Salutary Decentralization?

Who Killed Local Autonomy in the U.S.?

Once upon a time, local governments accounted for the lion's share of economic policy-making in the United States. Before World War I, not only was the federal government's economic policy-making activity strictly limited to areas such as international trade, management of federal lands, trust-busting, and food and drug regulation, but state governments themselves were also … Continue reading Who Killed Local Autonomy in the U.S.?

Interposition: Part Nine: The Hartford Convention

Few in power find it convenient to notice inconsistencies in their own conduct. Alas, but President Madison was no exception. Federalism and decentralization exist precisely because free constitutions should not depend on the good graces of those in office, but on the checks necessary to harry them back under the law. Seeking the financial means … Continue reading Interposition: Part Nine: The Hartford Convention

Do Politicians Regulate When They Can’t Spend?

Noel Johnson, Matt Mitchell, and Steve Yamarik have a new working paper answering that question in the affirmative. They look at state fiscal and regulatory policies and find that Democrats generally like to increase taxes and spending when in control of state houses and Republicans do the reverse. But when states have tough balanced-budget requirements … Continue reading Do Politicians Regulate When They Can’t Spend?

Interposition: Part Eight: Federalism, Finance and The War of 1812

When tensions with England finally began to degenerate into violent altercations, first on the western frontier in such places as Tippecanoe and later along the Great Lakes, the Madison administration decided the time had come to vindicate America’s claims of offended sovereignty. Unsurprisingly, these claims also happened to coincide with popular desires to expand into … Continue reading Interposition: Part Eight: Federalism, Finance and The War of 1812

Freedom in the 50 States

I've just gotten back from a Cato Institute event discussing the new study, Freedom in the 50 States, with my coauthor William Ruger, John Samples, and Michael Barone. I'll post the video when it's available. The Mercatus site for the study allows you to download the study and to use a calculator to see how … Continue reading Freedom in the 50 States

Interposition: Part Seven: The Embargo and Noncooperation

With the war in Europe between France and England intensifying, Americans found their rights as neutral traders regularly violated by both French and British navies, and French and British port restrictions further limited American opportunities for commerce. To make matters worse, on numerous occasions, English vessels had boarded American ships and “impressed” many of their … Continue reading Interposition: Part Seven: The Embargo and Noncooperation

Socialism in One State

Vermont has passed a law authorizing a single-payer, government-run health insurance system. Apparently the plan fails to grasp the fiscal nettle and thus may never come to fruition. Nevertheless, I hope they go forward with it. I don't think it will work - to the contrary, the experiment should serve as an object lesson to … Continue reading Socialism in One State

Interposition:Part Five: Assuming Powers from National Bank to Seditious Libel

Not long after the ratification of the Constitution, Madison came to have serious doubts about his former Federalist friends. Particularly, he came to suspect the sincerity of many who had asserted that the new government would possess only those powers specifically delegated to it. The first disappointment came with Hamilton’s championing of the incorporation of … Continue reading Interposition:Part Five: Assuming Powers from National Bank to Seditious Libel

Interposition: Part Four: New York and the First Act of Interposition

New York was Hamilton’s great project. So closely divided was the state, that at various moments, he despaired of its coming into the union. At one point the Antifederalists offered a compromise. They would support a conditional ratification dependent on the passage of certain key amendments, including the all important construction of delegated and reserved … Continue reading Interposition: Part Four: New York and the First Act of Interposition

The Future of Free Cities, Part 2

In my first post on last week's "Future of Free Cities" conference, I discussed the legislation Honduras has put forward to authorize the creation of new "free-market cities." In this second look at the conference, I summarize the discussions and some of the points I came away with. The first talk on the main day … Continue reading The Future of Free Cities, Part 2

The Future of Free Cities, Part 1

I am currently blogging from Roatán, Honduras, where I am participating in the "Future of Free Cities" conference, sponsored by Universidad Francisco Marroquín. The conference is about the economic and political preconditions for the establishment of free-enterprise zones in developing countries, as well as the internal governance of these territories. In his opening talk last … Continue reading The Future of Free Cities, Part 1

Interposition:Part Two: Publius and the Federal Check to National Power

Among the defenders of the Constitution, a great deal was said about the states as a check to the power of the national government that informed the first ideas about interposition.  Madison’s contention in Federalist 39 is well-known. Our union was to be “partly federal and partly national.” Among the premier federal attributes were such provisions as the equal … Continue reading Interposition:Part Two: Publius and the Federal Check to National Power

Interposition: Part One: An Essential Purpose of the States

A rumble can be heard emanating from assemblies and governor’s mansions across these fruited plains. It is a sound reminiscent of by-gone days that echo down through centuries of constitutional thought. Prompted by everything from unfunded Congressional mandates to the new omnibus healthcare bill, (See here and here) these reverberations strike cords of distant legal memory that … Continue reading Interposition: Part One: An Essential Purpose of the States

Interposition: The Teeth of Federalism: Introduction

The first of a series will begin tomorrow, the Ides of March (the 15th), an appropriate time to initiate an investigation of interposition and federalism in America. On that date in 44 B.C., Julius Caesar was slain for his offences against the Roman Republic. It was a futile act of desperation. The empire was not … Continue reading Interposition: The Teeth of Federalism: Introduction

Regional Inequality

The latest Economist has an interesting feature on inequalities among regions within countries. The article compares countries on their ranges in GDP per head (the ratio of richest region to poorest). Thus, we get charts like the following: But range is an extremely crude concept for measuring inequality. In the U.S., the District of Columbia … Continue reading Regional Inequality