From health care reform and transportation to education to the environment, the Obama administration has--from the beginning--sought to expand the power of the central state. The president's newest initiative to wrest environment, wage and benefit concessions from private companies is the latest example. But this trend of centralizing power to the federal government puts the political future of the ruling party--as well as the very nature of our federal system--in jeopardy.
... [F]unctions essential to interstate commerce--basic research, science education, the guarantee of civil rights, transportation infrastructure--as well as basic environmental health and safety standards ... call for some federal oversight.
For most of our history the burden of expanding opportunity has rested with the private economy, albeit in conjunction with often necessary protections for workers and consumers. Now the overall control of the economy is shifting to Washington--from government contracts to ownership shares in companies like General Motors and much of the financial sector.
This new order would transform the very nature of American capitalism. Now the economic winners will not be those working for the most agile or profitable companies, but those who gain the blessings of the federal overlords. In some senses this extends the corrupt, largely failed political economy of Chicago politics to a bastard American form of French dirigisme.
In the coming decades we will have to accommodate an expanding range of locally preferred lifestyles, environments, ethnic populations and politics. One size determined by mandarins in Washington increasingly will not fit all. South Dakotans and San Franciscans will prefer to address similar problems in different ways. Within the limits of constitutional rights, we should let them try their hand and let everyone else learn from their success (or failure).
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