It is almost November and the elections are upon us. Everywhere you drive, the landscape is blighted with signs of all shapes and sizes, some handsome, some in tatters, reminding us to “Vote For Jones for Controller,” “Johnson for State Senate,” “Byrd for Treasurer,” etc., etc. ad nauseam.
Yes, there is too much government. Even the most socialistic among us know this is true. But it is not just about the federal level. The United States is composed of fifty individually defined pieces of land mass, plus a couple of territories, forty eight states of which are directly connected.
In the early days of our Republic, the individual states were very much just that: individual states with many and varied differences apparent amongst them. It took days at least to travel from one state to another and most people stayed right near where they were born for their entire lives.
That is really no longer the case. About the only way one knows they are no longer in one state but in another is by reading a highway sign saying “Welcome to ____, the____ state.” With our modern technology, our disembodied voice is often in two states or more at once! Ditto now our two dimensional image. Airplanes crisscross borders in minutes or certainly within an hour or two. Yet, we still have fifty individual state governments and almost everyone has a bicameral legislative body. And the truth is they all act nearly just the same as any other.
Do we really need all this government? Can you even name your state representatives? Surely, your state speaker of the House and Senate pro-tem? No? Well, I wouldn’t blame you if you cannot. The fact is that rather than providing citizens with more freedom and prosperity, this state level of government seems more burdensome, annoying, and repetitive than anything that is set up to ensure our basic freedoms.
For example, look at driving licenses. I was in a local bank the other day and there was a booklet on the manager’s desk showing the actual image of each of the fifty state department of motor vehicles’ licenses—not the license plate, but the little plastic ids that they issue to their driving citizens and are kept in one’s wallet. The idea is to alert the bank manager to any potential fraud if an out of state person, or a new person in town, shows up with an apparent out of state driver’s license as identification and wants to open an account, withdraw cash, cash a check, etc.
Fifty individual motor vehicle departments! What a waste of money! Not only are the authentication issues much more difficult than if there was only one uniform automobile department for the United States, think of the added costs! And that is only in one department of our state governments. Look too at all these legislators and their staff and all the other redundant departments which have their processes duplicated state by state. Next time you are at the fuel pump, see how much of your money is going to state and local taxes. In most states, check out the state taxes on income and estates and on all sales of basically anything.
No doubt the Association of State Governments and unions representing state government workers won’t like what I have written, but they really represent just another “special interest” class. The fact is that if you want a pot hole removed from a road near your house, you have as much chance of accomplishing that by writing to your national representative as you do to your state person. All politics may be local, but we need to re-define local.
Although it sometimes seems hard to believe, there are still more citizens overall than there are state government employees! Yet, the fact of the matter is that it is very hard to justify all these state costs which are, of course, borne by the citizenry of the respective states in one fashion or another.
The argument for states and state’s rights has always been about making sure we have a de-centralized federal government that does not call all the shots in our lives. Our third President, Thomas Jefferson, was a strong believer in a weak central government that would defer to the states. However, states were much different in scope at that time and the differences between the southern states and the northern ones were obviously, given the reasons for our Civil War alone, quite large. In that day, and really right up to about the start of the 20th century, each state was almost a separate nation with a need to govern unto itself as much as be a part of a larger union.
In fact the basic reason for any central government at all had to do with defense and security issues as much as anything else: a united set of states in the “new world” was the best method for insuring the safety of all the states against any potential domination and interference from Britain, France, and even Spain. Jefferson saw this clearly as his apparent about face attitude about a big government was shown in his support for the Louisiana Purchase.
No matter how forward-thinking the Founding Fathers were, however, today is a different age. Our states are linked together and we have repelled any attempts by other countries attempting to drive a wedge between and amongst our union.
There are certainly arguments against having an overly strong central government, but these arguments need to be tied to logic and not nostalgia and blind passion. There is no reason why we cannot keep our individual states, but it just makes a great deal of sense to lessen the citizen’s burden of supporting so much localized government which does nothing really but add to everyone’s basic costs. It is time, I think, to move toward eliminating individual state governments and graduating at least to a regional system: four regional governments representing America’s north, south, west and east would seem at least more manageable and if done properly less expensive for all.
Four motor vehicle departments for the nation would make security much easier and, therefore, potentially much better. Four regions would have much stronger governmental clout and best of all those never-ending political campaign signs would have the possibility of being reduced substantially so that perhaps the everyday citizen might be able to understand who their representatives are and what is more, they might even care.