Despite frustrations and disappointment, the United States of America continues to endure. In my opinion, federalism is the best aspect of our system of government and the reason for our continued success as a nation. Federalism may be defined as a political system in which power is divided between a central government and multiple constituent, provincial, or state governments (Cavalli, p. 27). In the Federalist Papers, James Madison also argued that the American government was neither “wholly national nor wholly federal”, but rather a composition of both.
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In our current version, cooperative federalism, or the “marble cake”, shared powers by the national and state governments provide us with several advantages such as protection against tyranny, the ability for citizens to participate and help shape their local laws to meet their needs, and room for innovation and testing of laws and policies at state levels.
One of the most important benefits of federalism in dividing the power between the federal and state governments, and even the further spreading of the federal government’s power among the three branches, is that it provides a system of checks and balances to deter tyranny. After the American Revolution, the United States became a confederation under the Articles of Confederation. It established the government as a weak central government as the founders were afraid of becoming similar to the unitary system of Britain which our nation had just fought against. The framers of the U.S. Constitution ensured a stronger central government by designating certain powers to be reserved for the federal government such as the implied powers under Article 1 Section 8, the Supremacy Clause under Article 6 and the powers to tax, while others are reserved to the state governments such as police powers. This served to ensure that power was diffused and that no one branch, or system would be stronger than the other. Federalism ensures that power is not wholly centralized to a single person or group of people and prevents excessive power, tyranny and corruption of power.
While power is diffused among the federal and state governments, ultimately citizens still retain the right to vote for most of our government officials. At the state level, the benefit of federalism enables citizens to vote for local laws and policies that reflect their specific needs and interest for their region. With the large size of the United States and the vast diversity and differences with preferences, it can be very difficult for a centralized government to have an in-depth knowledge of all of the regions of the country. Federalism allows for state governments to focus on issues that are most important to its residents and create and implement laws and policies to benefit the states’ residents. An additional benefit is that it also allows citizens to feel closer to the government since each state has its own elected officials with offices and residency within the state and/or district they represent. This allows the ease of citizens reaching out to local politicians, increases the likelihood of their voice being heard and being represented by someone that understands their needs and concerns.
Federalism also allows for “laboratories of democracy” in which policy experiments can be tried out on a small scale at the state level at usually a low cost for the federal government. Through federalism, states are free to determine their own policies and through this experimentation, states can determine the most effective policies for solving its own local issues and concerns. The benefit of states serving as these “laboratories” is that often other states have similar problems and these policy experiments can be changed, improved and even adopted by other states or sometimes nationally by the federal government. An added benefit of policy experimentation is that is encourages economic competition between the states. This experimentation also allows each state to manage its own resources and spending through its policies. For example, since Texas has maintained a low tax system, minimal state government intervention in the free enterprise system, and other differences in policies, the state experience the “Texas Miracle” during 2001 and 2008 when the majority of the nation experienced an economic downturn.
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