Current Conservative dogma is that Federal government is bad. The belief is rooted in the premise that it is the wrong level at which to govern. Policy should be made at the state level, or better yet, at the county or town.
There is a visceral appeal to this position. If government is about me, I want it close to me so I can be heard. I don’t wish to be one of millions of voices, but rather one of hundreds or thousands. That way, what’s important to me and my neighbors will get done. Someone will care about me.
The result of this view is Conservative opposition to federal meddling in education, roads, health care, commerce, environmental conservation, banking, and almost anything else excepting the military.
And a century and change ago, this view made perfect sense. But the world has changed since then, and policy needs to change with it. In fact, decentralization is decidedly the wrong trend in today’s world.
Back in the day (circa 1900), you could spend the better part of a day searching your hometown for something made more than a few hundred miles away. When someone left town, they moved to the next county. Living your life in that time involved a largely local dependence. Events happening half a continent or half a world away were interesting news items, but bore no real consequence on your life.
Look around your town or workplace today. Try to find something of local origin. Hell, try to find something strictly made in the USA. Your dependence is easily national, and rapidly becoming global. You may live in New York, but you care that roads are maintained in Kansas so that a truck can bring you a new Samsung TV. Your car runs on imported oil. Your new boss telecommutes from a different state. And your Internet tech support comes from Mumbai. Whether you like it or not, and even whether you realize it or not, you are dependent on a national and international infrastructure. An infrastructure encompassing transportation, safety, education, economy, and much more.
Yes, local control is dwindling, but not because larger governments are usurping power. Rather, it’s because where local governments used to contain all the dependent pieces, now larger governments do. And effective management and control is only achieved if all the dependent pieces are under the umbrella. The inevitable trend is toward consolidation.
Interestingly, this globalization trend has been recognized and embraced on the business side for decades. No one is arguing that Microsoft should be broken up and managed as a loose confederation of state-specific companies. (“I’m sorry, you’re running Windows 7-Virginia, so I can’t read those files.”) That the scale and scope of business and government should trend in opposite directions is nonsensical, and ultimately bad for both.
That said, there are still monumental dysfunctions in the way the federal government operates. Early attempts at inter-country governments like the European Union or even the United Nations demonstrate that we are a long way from knowing how to govern effectively at scale. The key point being that we have to set our collective mind to finding a way to make this scope of government work, and give up on the foolish notion that we can live in a 21st-century capitalist world, ruled by a 19th-century political system.