Is the federal system the best way to govern the United States?
There are reasons to support and to refute the claim that the federal system is the best way to govern the United States.
There are several reasons why the federal system is a good system for the United States. One reason is that it is good to have one set of policies and regulations for the entire country for certain issues. When the Articles of Confederation were in force, each state printed its own money. This eventually led to financial issues like inflation. Imagine what it would be like today if every state could print its own money. It also is better for the federal government to have the power to make treaties that impact the whole country. If a country had to negotiate a treaty with each state, it would be a very cumbersome process. Also, it wouldn’t be good if individual states could decide to go to war. When Congress issues a declaration of war, the whole country is involved.
In some cases, allowing states to make different laws about the same topic can have deadly consequences. Many years ago, each state was allowed to determine the legal drinking age. This led to deadly consequences when a neighboring state had a lower drinking age. For many years, the legal drinking age in Wisconsin was eighteen while in Illinois it was twenty-one. Many young people from Illinois between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one would drive to Wisconsin to drink. Then they would drive home. Sometimes deadly accidents occurred as some people drove home after drinking too much.
A disadvantage of the federal system is that the federal government might develop federal policies without knowing the needs of the people. State and local governments are usually better informed regarding the needs of the people. Therefore, these governments may be more suited to develop policies for the people in a state or in a city. This is especially true for educational policies within a state. A local school district knows the needs of its population better than the federal government. As the federal role in education has increased in the last twenty years, this has been a growing concern as federal policies have negatively impacted some local school districts. The proliferation of testing (and student exhaustion) is an example. Therefore, it is better for the local school district to make educational decisions and policies for the people it serves. Another disadvantage is that a federal law may be harmful to some states. Since federal laws take priority over state laws, a state couldn’t really do much about the law if it harmed that state.
There are plusses and minuses to the federal system in the United States.
This is, of course, a matter of opinion. There is no objective way to choose whether federalism is better than some other system. Let us look at some arguments for and against federalism.
There are a few main arguments for federalism. They include:
The state governments are closer to the people and more likely to do what the people want. The idea here is that the federal government is distant from most states and does not really care as much about a given state as the people of that state do. Therefore, state governments are more likely to do what is best for a state.
Different states are too different and cannot really be expected to have the same laws. For example, a state like Texas needs to be allowed to have the death penalty because that is what its people want, but a state like New York should be able to ban it since its people are much more liberal.
States are laboratories for different policies. Since states can have different policies, we have the chance to try out different things and see what works.
The main argument for giving more power to the federal government is that it is simply wrong for different Americans to have different rights. It is wrong for a woman in one state to have the right to an abortion while a woman in the next state does not. (Or, if you want to look at it this way, it is wrong for a fetus in one state to be protected while a fetus in the next state is not.) We are all Americans and we should all have the same rights.