The Coming Crisis of Federalism

I probably should have given up making predictions after 2016, when I called the presidential election correctly. I don’t think I have gotten one right since then.

But I do have one prediction for 2023 and years to come: I think the federalism issue—the relationship between the federal government and the states—will become the most vital question in our political life.

Currently, we have at least two large states, Texas and Florida, that enjoy strong, effective leadership, while our national government flounders. States like Texas and Florida are plenty big enough to go it on their own, and one wonders how long they will chafe under the yoke of an inept and destructive central government.

The most immediate issue dividing these states from Washington is illegal immigration. The Biden administration has not just failed to secure our southern border, it has repudiated any intention of carrying out its constitutional responsibility. In the presence of such a vacuum, the states have no choice but to act. And they can reasonably ask, why should they continue to owe allegiance to a national government that will not carry out its most basic duty of protecting them against invasion?

Another wedge issue is monetary policy. Both Texas and Florida are well-managed and fiscally sound. In contrast, Washington is a spendthrift mess. The federal government’s trillions in deficit spending have caused inflation that devastates citizens of Florida and Texas, along with the rest of us. And the national government levies onerous taxes to support its profligate spending. Residents of well-managed states like Texas and Florida—and also a number of smaller states, South Dakota is a paragon—will reasonably conclude that they aren’t getting their money’s worth. And Texas and Florida are populous enough to issue their own currency, either separately or jointly.

Then there is the issue of freedom. In recent years, the federal government has encroached on its citizens’ rights to an unprecedented degree, and in a way that is particularly hostile to residents of the well-run states. Why should citizens of Florida and Texas—and North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina, and so on—put up with a government that leans on social media companies to limit their freedom of speech? Why should Florida, for example, continue to recognize the authority of the FBI if it deems that agency to be hopelessly corrupt? And why should energy-rich states like Texas, North Dakota and Louisiana allow their economies to be suppressed by an unholy alliance of misguided environmentalists, greedy politicians, Big Wind and Big Solar?

I don’t think disunion will happen during my lifetime. But I do think that the potential for disunion will play an increasingly important role in our national debates. It would be relatively easy to establish a contiguous nation, based on our current Constitution, that reaches from North Dakota to Texas, then includes the entire Southeast as far as Florida, and extends north to include, at a minimum, Indiana and Ohio. Other states would no doubt choose to join. Such a nation would be vastly better governed than the current United States, it would contain our most important natural resources, and it would include most of the territory from which our armed forces are drawn.

There are strong reasons for the states to re-assert their sovereignty, and, given how poorly our national government is performing, that can only be a good thing. Perhaps the prospect of disunion will concentrate the minds of the political class in Washington. Or perhaps disunion will become a reality, maybe sooner than we can now imagine. Either way, I think the issue of federalism will come to dominate our political debate before long.

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