The pros and cons of federalism have been the subject of debate since the
creation of the republic.
Proponents argue that federalism does the following:
- Fosters state loyalties: Many Americans feel close ties
to their home state, and federalism maintains that connection by giving
power to the states.
- Practices pragmatism: Running a country the size of the
United States, with such a diverse population, is much easier to do if power
is given to local officials. Likewise, state and local officials are closer
to the problems of their areas, so it makes sense for them to choose
policies to solve those problems.
- Creates laboratories of democracy: State governments can
experiment with policies, and other states (and the federal government) can
learn from their successes and failures.
Example: California has frequently
led the nation in environmental regulations: Many measures adopted by
California are subsequently adopted by other states. And during the 1990s,
Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson experimented with welfare policy, and
those experiments influenced federal welfare reform.
- Leads to political stability: By removing the national
government from some contentious issue areas, federalism allowed the early
U.S. government to achieve and maintain stability.
- Encourages pluralism: Federal systems expand government
on national, state, and local levels, giving people more access to leaders
and opportunities to get involved in their government.
- Ensures the separation of powers and prevents tyranny:
Even if one person or group took control of all three branches of the
federal government, federalism ensures that state governments would still
function independently. Federalism, therefore, fulfills the framers’ vision
of a governmental structure that ensures liberty.
Critics argue that federalism falls short in two ways:
- Prevents the creation of a national policy: The United
States does not have a single policy on issues; instead, it has fifty-one
policies, which often leads to confusion.
- Leads to a lack of accountability: The overlap of the
boundaries among national and state governments makes it tricky to assign
blame for failed policies.