Alabama is for lovers
David Weigel shares this pretty hilarious attack ad on Alabama gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne:
I believe the Bible is the Word of God and that every single word of it is true. From the earliest parts of this campaign, a paraphrased and incomplete parsing of my words have been knowingly used to insinuate that I believe something different than that. My faith is at the center of my life and my belief in Jesus Christ as my personal savior and Lord guides my every action.
As a Christian and as a public servant, I have never wavered in my belief that this world and everything in it is a masterpiece created by the hands of God. As a member of the Alabama Board of Education, the record clearly shows that I fought to ensure the teaching of creationism in our school textbooks. Those who attack me have distorted, twisted and misrepresented my comments and are spewing utter lies to the people of this state.
Alabama is a good reminder of why progressives should reconsider competitive federalism as a means toward progressive political ends, and why top-down change is often unsustainable (though admittedly sometimes necessary). The values and political preferences of ‘East Coast Elites’ are simply not going to be shared by people who want their public servants to fight ‘to ensure the teaching of creationism in our school textbooks’.
I think the strongest argument against more state-based politics in the United States is that it would be too inherently chaotic; that the imbalance would be unsustainable in the long-term and especially in the global economy. That local and state politicians have less oversight and are often more corrupt than federal politicians is oftentimes true, but – as Mike Konzcal points out in this excellent piece on pre-emption – sometimes state regulations and rules can actually be a lot tougher than federal regulations, and a lot less prone to capture:
You have two regulators, the state and the federal government, they are in conflict. The federal government is easier to corrupt: you can bribe 1 federal regulator with 50x the money of 50 state regulators; and in so much as bad regulation may be felt more heavily at the state level, there’s even more of a incentive misalignment. If they are forced to compete, because the entity being regulated can choose, it’s even more favorable to that entity. One way to solve these nasty equilibria is to choose the stronger regulation proposed between the two parties, which is what happens when you exclude pre-emption.
Now take this to the next logical step and you have states competing for residents based on taxation and spending policies, regulations, etc. with the majority of taxes going not to the feds, but to the states themselves (as well as local governments). This is how it’s done in places like Switzerland. I think you’d find that doing things like piecing together an $800 billion dollar defense budget would be nearly impossible in such an arrangement, whereas states putting together health care systems – or working together to form multi-state cooperative health plans – would be quite viable.
In some areas, like interstate trade and certain environmental regulations (particularly air and water regulations) the federal government would most likely need to play a heavier role.
In any case, this is certainly not a perfect solution, but I think it would fit the nature of American politics and the American people much better than our currently federal-government-as-be-all-end-all system. More focus would go back to state governments. People in Alabama, when they saw how poorly they were fairing compared to other states which actually taught science instead of creationism, might start to demand changes to make their state more competitive. People in Ohio might realize that their tax rates and regulations were too burdensome on businesses and try to copy some of the pro-business policies from Texas. The New England states might all join forces to create a bigger, better Romneycare with larger risk pools.