What Happened to American Federalism

From a worthwhile essay surveying the devolution of American federalism into a kludgeocracy:

In a purely federal system, in which governmental functions were clearly differentiated between the national and state governments, federalism would not translate directly into complexity. But that is not American federalism as it is currently practiced. “Our federalism” creates a bias toward sending money to the states, even though the cash always comes with a laundry list of regulations and requirements attached.

One of the clearest findings in the study of American public opinion is that Americans are ideological conservatives and operational liberals. That is, they want to believe in the myth of small government while demanding that government address public needs and wants regarding everything from poverty and retirement security to environmental protection and social mobility.

This ambivalence in expectations creates a durable bias in the actual outputs of American government. The easiest way to satisfy both halves of the American political mind is to create programs that hide the hand of government, whether it is through tax preferences, regulation, or litigation, rather than operating through the more transparent means of direct taxing and spending.

Steven Teles

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