Law & Principles

Trent England | November 5, 2015

Federalism is smarter

Trent England

Taken from the transcript of Trent England’s presentation at a recent interim study exploring the state costs connected to complying with federal regulations. You can listen to the audio from that hearing here and go to the 2:28 mark. – Editor

There’s a high cost to massive expansion of federal regulation; a cost that can’t be measured in dollars.

Yes, we can measure dollars expended by government, extracted by taxpayers or forgone in lost economic growth. And yes, these costs are high and harmful. But the more difficult to measure cost of this centralization of regulation is the long-term dumbing-down of U.S. public policy.

Founders’ original vision of states, united by federal government

A part of the genius of the United States—I should note that we are not simply united, but also states—was in turning a massive swath of North America into a free-trade, free-migration zone while at the same time keeping most governance local.

Within the United States we have dramatic diversity of people and geography as well as a remarkable abundance of natural resources. We are joined together by our shared heritage that includes a common legal framework based in English common law and an understanding of the dignity of the individual best expressed in our Declaration of Independence.

We are also joined together by our union of states under a federal government that is expressly and obviously limited in its legitimate powers. We find this fact expressed throughout the Constitution in:

  • Article 1, Section 1;
  • Article 1, Section 8;
  • the Supremacy Clause in Article VI; and
  • Amendment X in the Bill of Rights

The Federal government is limited to those powers that are necessarily national, most obviously defense and foreign policy, but also the regulation of weights and measures, the safeguarding of intellectual property rights, and oversight of disputes among the states.

Laboratories of democracy . . .

So what about the other powers? Most government powers the Constitution leaves to the states or simply the people. This means people are left either entirely free or, at the very least, free to govern ourselves within our particular state.

We learn by comparison and by contrast—mostly by contrast. To learn, to draw a conclusion, we need multiple examples describing various courses of conduct and their results. To put this another way: the scientific method demands more than one experiment. Starting with 13 states and growing to 50, the United States has offered an invaluable proving ground for public policy choices. Because we do share much in common, ideas and people move easily around in response to the policies of the states.

. . . vs the centralized power monopoly

Government is often described simply as a legitimate monopoly or a monopoly on force. The genius of what the American Founders and Framers of our federal republic did is that they broke up the monopoly that is government by creating a union of states where most power remains within states.

Where there is no competition there is no incentive for excellence. Without competition, those in power reap windfall profits—whether in money or power or, generally, both—and those at the periphery have nowhere to go to escape inefficiency and abuse.

Over the course of the 20th Century, we have allowed much of that work to be undone as power has been drawn into D.C., including many powers never before held or asserted by our central government.

Returning authority to states

Restoring limits on federal power and returning most regulatory authority to the states is not simply a legal and an economic imperative. It’s the best way to break up the D.C. power monopoly. Only then can we experience, learn, and hopefully achieve excellence in public policy.

Centralized power robs us of the power to learn, to respond, and to do things better. Returning power to the states is the smart thing to do.

Trent England David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow

Trent England

David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow

Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.

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