10th Amendment In the News

IN THE NEWS: Federalism (i.e. competition) Works!

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Washington, June 13, 2013 | comments

By Michael Carnuccio

The Liberty Foundation of Oklahoma Libertyfound.org

People thrive on competition.  We should apply the relevant adjective “competitive” to the abiding concept “federalism” to illuminate the inherent advantage of a truly federal system of government.

Like so many of the ideas enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, the concept of “federalism” was considered by the Founders to be essential to the success of the American experiment. 

In Federalist, No. 39, James Madison reassured critics that the Constitution would not establish a strictly “national” government—that is, one that derives its powers exclusively from and operates directly upon the people, with no regard for the authority and responsibility of the states. Instead, Madison explained, the Constitution would establish a government that was both “national” and “federal”— i.e. respectful of state sovereignty. 

In the first place, the states had to ratify the Constitution for it to take effect. As Madison wrote, “The act, therefore, establishing the Constitution, will not be a national, but a federal act.” Years later, Ronald Reagan summed it up this way: “The states created the federal government, not the other way around.” 

In the second, while the national government would operate directly upon the people in matters of its jurisdiction, its jurisdiction would be scrupulously limited to “certain enumerated objects only.” In other words, “if the government be national with regard to the operation of its powers,” it is not “in relation to the extent of its powers.”  Like so many of the ideas enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, the concept of “federalism” was considered by the Founders to be essential to the success of the American experiment.  In Federalist, No. 39, James Madison reassured critics that the Constitution would not establish a strictly “national” government—that is, one that derives its powers exclusively from and operates directly upon the people, with no regard for the authority and responsibility of the states. Instead, Madison explained, the Constitution would establish a government that was both “national” and “federal”— i.e. respectful of state sovereignty.

Unfortunately, and also like so many of the ideas enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, “federalism” seems to have lost its luster in the latter half of U.S. history. Yet we have the most enduring written constitution in the world for a reason: When actually applied, it works to limit government and to ensure the greatest possible measure of liberty for individuals—and, in the process, it simultaneously maintains order and stability and unleashes Americans’ creative potential in such a way as to almost inevitably lead to material prosperity.

It takes education for Americans to understand why this is so, though. At a time when most Americans consider the words “national” and “federal” to be interchangeable, an exposition of the meaning of “federalism” is clearly necessary and important. Yet, such an exposition must respect the apparent reality that Americans no longer relate to and interpret the word “federalism” as they did when they were debating whether to support ratification of the Constitution. We must speak in terms everyone can understand.

Americans understand competition. For proof, look no farther than the success of the sports industry. Billions of dollars are invested and countless hours dedicated to watch agile athletes compete with one another. There is a reason college athletics is referred to as the doorstep of the university. People thrive on competition.  [We should] apply the relevant adjective “competitive” to the abiding concept “federalism” to illuminate the inherent advantage of a truly federal system of government—it works!—and to urge lawmakers to revive our own.

Mr. Carnuccio is the President of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, Inc.

* For questions on the TATF or to have an article highlighted, please contact Devin Wiser with Rep. Rob Bishop’s office at devin.wiser@mail.house.gov.

 

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