“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other.” Attributed to a speech made by Winston Churchill on November 11, 1947 to the House of Commons. This sentiment perfectly matches the incredible debate surrounding what the ideal governmental structure would be. With individuals holding extreme views as far as libertarian and communist, there are a number of different ways to approach governmental structure, as well as types of existing governments out there already.
So which government is the best? Lets take a moment to examine one form of government that many people are accustomed to. Federalism is a word that is frequently thrown around to describe everything from political views to governmental organization. Along with reviewing the pros and cons associated with Federalism, we will also take a closer look at exactly what Federalism within this context means.
The Pros Of Federalism
Federalism offers a number of advantages to citizens as well as effectively bringing about law. With an emphasis both on national and local, Federalism provides the framework for creating tailored law that works in specific areas, greater civic participation, is a check against centralized power and tyranny, and it encourages the research of good policy.
1. Easier To Create Tailored Law
Sometimes, national laws do not work across the entire country. Take the United States for example. Laws regarding hunting, fishing, and mining may work fantastically in Alaska, but be completely impractical and even dangerous if applied to other states, like say New Jersey. Unlike unitary state governmental structures, Federalism allows for each individual state to create laws that specifically apply to the setting and conditions that the state finds itself in. This way, laws can be direct, meaningful, and serve a greater purpose to the individuals who live and work in the area. As a final thought, being able to pass laws on the local level is significantly easier then passing laws on the national level, leading to quicker addressing, debating, and ratifying of the law.
2. Greater Level of Civic Participation
While many criticize the low turn out rates when it comes to local and national elections in the United States, the Federalism system in which we operate under does create a surprising amount of local governmental participation and activism that is rarely seen on a national level. With significant power given to state and local governments, individuals feel closer to the power structure and are more capable of making an important change when they feel the need to. From individual activism to non-profits and state wide organizations, people are closer to the power with a Federalism system in place. Also, many larger national organizations get their start on the local or state level, rising to national prominence when the importance of their mission becomes known to the wider country as a whole.
3. Stops The Centralization of Power
Tyranny, the rule of the many by the few, occurs more easily in unitary governmental systems where all power is centralized in a single location. With Federalism, the rights of states ensure that power will always be divided between participating entities and the overarching government. As a result, the two must work together in order to accomplish a goal, making true tyranny and the centralization of power very difficult.
4. Encourages Research In Good Policy
Local governments and states on the whole are amazing laboratories for democracy in a Federalist system. Take the United States as an example. Countless states have devised their own laws regarding the regulation of controlled substances. Each state can have slightly different language in their law, leading to different outcomes. If the national government ever wants to enact the best possible law, all they have to do is look at the individual states and see what law has worked the best. This was done during the creation of the Affordable Care Act in the United States, where the statewide health care system used in Massachusetts became the system a national health care law was based on.
The Cons of Federalism
Any person who has lived with Federalism can easily see the cons of such a system through either personal experience or through weekly news reports. In particular, Federalism can hinder the creation of effective national policy, create big problems regarding overlapping jurisdictions and law, and create general ignorance of the public in regards to the larger issues facing the United States.
1. Hinders National Policy
While Federalism allows for passing laws on a state level effectively, it can slow down the passage of laws on a national level. As mentioned before, the Affordable Care Act was a piece of landmark legislation designed to address the failing national standards of our health care. Whether you agree or disagree with the legislation, the fact is clear that it took decades to try to enact.
2. Issues With Overlapping Jurisdiction
Is marijuana legal or illegal? If you ask the national government, then it is considered a Schedule 1 Substance (The worst and most harmful of all) and is not under any condition helpful medically or legal. In fact, many people have gone to jail for possession and intent to sell. Now, if you ask the same question in say Colorado, the answer is no. In a few states, marijuana is perfectly legal to buy, sell, have, and ingest. So, is marijuana legal or illegal? With Federalism, this kind of overlapping jurisdiction in laws can create confusion and even lead to a break down of order.
3. Greater Ignorance on Larger Issues
With the creation of state and national governments, there is a very real chance of ignorance regarding national issues. With a unitary governmental structure, individuals may have more say in national issues, while a Federalist system provides plenty of access to local, but not national politics.
4. Creates Cross Border Conflict
Within a Federalist system, there is always the chance that individual states or provinces will compete against each other. For example, in the United States there is a great deal of competition among states for businesses. It is a common practice for different states to try and poach businesses from other states, enticing them to relocated for better taxes as well as special perks. While this system may help the state in question, it hurts Americans and does nothing for the betterment of the country as a whole.
Simply put, Federalism is a political concept and governmental structure where people are bound together with a representative head. More often then not, this includes power that is constitutionally divided between separate political units, like states or provinces. With the government shared between national and state organizations, the division of power is greater then other forms of more localized government. In general, most countries can be broken down into either federalism or unitary states, depending on whether or not power is distributed onto a more local level.
The United States is a perfect example of a federalist system. First, there is the national government that has certain abilities to carry out laws, policy, and anything else that individuals states would not be able to effectively do on their own. In addition to the national level, the US is comprised of 50 states that all have individual laws and policies regarding certain things.