Metropolitics: Why Local Government Is The Solution To Preserve American Democracy (And Society)
It’s quite unfortunate that American national elections are perceived as a Partisan Death Match through which 51% of the nation gets to impose its personal beliefs on the hapless 49% minority. America’s Culture War (Kulturkampf for you Germans out there) is still raging, and is increasingly being fought over national social policy. The federal government recently has been arrogating even more authority to dictate our social and economic affairs, whether in defining marriage, inhibiting free speech, or restricting various other forms of free expression. As a result, the livelihoods and interests of every American are increasingly at stake – and are increasingly disregarded in favor of the preferences of powerful special interests. National policy is becoming even more contentious, fractured, and overflowing with candidates promising that they will do everything for everyone – and then proceeding to do nothing for anyone. The libertarian, however, knows there is a better way.
The United States, according to the Constitution, was never intended to allow such majoritarian domination. Instead, our federal system is intended to allow states to experiment with different policies, effectively serving as a laboratory through which new social or economic policies can be tested for the benefit of those who want them. The Constitution’s 10th Amendment guarantees this. It says, “Powers not delegated to the federal government…are reserved to the states, respectively, or to the people.”
Many issues discussed by our aspiring presidential candidates, such as education, marriage, and social policy, are traditional spheres of state authority, allowing for state residents to choose between different approaches to the problem. While heroes of federalism like my governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, have taken strides to assert state independence in the face of the Federal Leviathan, the political trend clearly continues toward federal control. What results is bad national policy (see No Child Left Behind), Red State/Blue State divides in which opposing factions argue for completely contradictory values, and many other divisions in American society that endanger the cohesion of the American people. The solution to this national problem is to reverse the Big National Government trend and allow more local control by the people themselves, not less.
In today’s pluralistic and highly mobile society, cities (“the people”, according to the 10th Amendment) should have an increased ability to set their own policies – especially on contentious issues such as social policy. The principles and advantages of federalism still hold – it allows for local needs, encourages policy innovation, and makes government more responsive. The cities that provide effective and popular policies in their communities will find an easier time attracting residents, business and other investment. It’s the Constitutional idea, but with 21st century advancement.
Now, this is a fine idea in the abstract, my readers are undoubtedly thinking, but how will it work in reality? Glad you asked.
San Francisco, CA | Gay Marriage
It’s possible that diverse local policy might help bring a truce to some of the most contentious Culture War issues. San Francisco recently attempted to recognize gay marriages. Their attempt was rebuffed by the state, who informed them that only state law sets marriage policy. But why should this be the case? Why can’t San Francisco (or any other gay-loving municipality, for that matter) be allowed to recognize gay marriages within their city limits? It clearly has no effect on the marriage of any person outside the city limits of San Francisco (the putative worry of conservatives), and allows the local achievement of a civil right (the concern of libertarians) without requiring national, or even state sanction. Such a localized policy will undoubtedly prove what this organization has argued all along – that the value of marriage is determined by the spiritual commitment of the two married parties, not by public policy.
Keene, NH | Gun Control
In Keene, New Hampshire, the residence of our libertarian friends over atFree Talk Live, it is perfectly legal to appear anywhere in public carrying a firearm in plain view. It’s a very raw form of the right to bear arms, guaranteed by the Constitution to preserve personal security. The policy works great in New Hampshire, where the most likely reaction to your brandishing a weapon in public is for your neighbor to compliment it, show you his, and invite you to the shooting range on the weekend. But I have an apartment in downtown Los Angeles, California, where the same act would likely affront the ‘hood dignity of an erstwhile felon who is much more likely, in response, to toss you a one-way ticket to the morgue through the barrel of his AK. That’s not to say there aren’t places in California where the public display of one’s chrome four-fifth could work as well as it does in Keene. There certainly are, and those cities (undoubtedly, most of them are in Orange County) should be able to experiment with various firearm measures to achieve the correct balance of self-defense and public safety. It’s an obvious solution. Who knows more about how to keep your local community safe – the people who live there, or Barack Obama?
Denver, CO | Drug Policy
Recently, the city of Denver passed a referendum, entirely legalizing marijuana possession for personal use for those 21 and over. The ordinance, however, faced a fate similar to San Francisco’s attempt to liberalize marriage, and ended up ignored by the Denver police who continued to enforce the stricter state laws on cannabis possession.
Why should Denver be prohibited from respecting the preferences of its own people? Weed Haters are usually concerned about liberal state laws on cannabis attracting hordes of bohemian stoners into the state, presumably raiding suburban donut shops, sitting in parks, movie-hopping, and laughing uncontrollably in public, among other potential crises. But such Puritan fears counsel even more local control over drug policy, thus justifying Denver’s legalization. If 54% of Denver’s voters think the ability to toke up in the privacy of one’s home is worth the potential emigration of Humboldt residents to the Mile High City (no pun intended), shouldn’t they be allowed to deal with the consequences?
Drug War advocates need to see legalized, recreational cannabis use not causing the mass hysteria and social devolution they think it will. Many of these opponents rely on outdated agitprop like Reefer Madness, or past government warnings about cannabis (such as the fact it “causes White women to seek sexual relations with Negroes”) to inform their opinions, having zero basis in fact or experience. However, nothing is instructive like reality. Cities should be given a chance to show the incredible ability of individual Americans to handle freedom and liberty – yes, even the freedom to smoke a little weed.
Miami, FL | Language
This organization recently advocatedfor the adoption of English as America’s national language, for several good reasons that we outlined. But a common objection to this policy is that it harms immigrant communities. Local municipal policy would eliminate that objection, however. Cities like Miami, where Spanish is spoken more often than English, would be free to make Spanish and English co-official languages of the region. Thus, communities of non-English speakers could still be engaged in local government and receive local benefits, while English-speaking communities would still remain free to pursue linguistic assimilation and other important policies. Es muy facil, amigo.
Berkeley, CA | Economic Policy
Under our proposed system of local policy, the most economically “progressive” cities would have a greater ability to set local economic policy. If Berkeley wants to offer a nation-leading welfare program, it should be able to provide a $20,000 stipend for every Californian to take up residence in the city, or perhaps universal, high-quality health care, and it can then alone deal with the mass unemployment and non-existent labor productivity, among other economic consequences.
Progressives like George Lakaff, I believe, retain a shred of legitimacy only because their benighted economic policies have no chance of being implemented, and thus they can’t be proven wrong. Allow cities to implement local socialism, for example, and you achieve two things to fix this quandary. a) You make progressives stop whining on National TV, since they finally can create the Worker’s Paradise they so desire in their own backyard, and b) You prove the superiority of market capitalism, once the local tax base in Progressivopolis collapses down to nothing, Atlas Shrugged style. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.
About the Author
The author of The American Evolution, Matt Harrison is the founder and executive director of The Prometheus Institute, Los Angeles, CA, a nonprofit public policy institute. He has authored more than 200 articles, many of which can be found on www.ThePrometheusInstitute.org, has been a guest on several talk radio shows, and a guest blogger for CNN. Harrison earned a BBA in political science from University of Miami and has completed requirements on his law degree and master of public policy degree from the University of Southern California.
The Prometheus Institute is a public policy organization dedicated to discovering independent policy solutions to reduce the burden of government on the people, and creatively marketing these ideas to the lay public of the United States, in order to create the political demand for positive change.
Mini-lecture: A hung Parliament explained
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