Thursday, September 07, 2006

Elephants in the Room

So I’m at work the other day, it’s the day after another Year O’ Legislating has come to a end for the California State Senate, and I’m listening to N.P.R.

Turns out, the government of the great state of California has been very busy this past session. Which begged the question, posed by one of the commentators, is California setting a precedent for state legislation?

Are we going to start seeing more and more state governments legislating things that might have once been thought of as the domain of the federal government?

For example, this whole “bill to combat global warming” dealy-o; seems like California took stock of current U.S. policy on global warming and raised its collective middle finger in a Fuck You to Washington D.C.

Then it hits me, of course! It’s a fiendishly clever plan, put into play by the Bush administration in order to encourage one of the most venerated Republican ideals: small government.

If the Republican-run U.S. Senate and Whitehouse appear too incompetent to accomplish, well, anything, then the states have no choice but to Sack Up, Ho and get their small government on.

What appears to be gross incompetence to the casual observer is in fact a keenly executed political ploy of astounding brilliance.

Well played Mr. President, well played indeed.


Jimmie said...

I agree with you on the CA legislation sticking it to Washington DC. However, I think some of it might be because the current Federal administration has been breathing down the necks of programs that most Republicans don't like, social services.

In the last few years, the Feds have been attempting to reduce funding to social services programs while also conducting scrutinizing audits. They have focused in on California in particular. Is that because Bush lost the presidential vote in CA?

Anyways, that might be one reason for the global warming bill. And because we actually NEED to act soon on this problem.

Mark H. Foxwell said...

There is a very good reason why, historically, we have become more "dependent" on legislation at the Federal level, a reason pointed out a century ago by Rosa Luxemburg in the European context, and reiterated by Michael Harrington in _The Other America_ in 1960 or so.

When you legislate on a matter that costs large private corporations money, they have effective freedom to pull up stakes and relocate to another venue that hasn't got around to inconveniencing them in that way yet.

The conditions for carrying out business are "sticky" enough that in practice not all business immediately flees a state (or nowadays, nation--Luxemburg was writing against devolution of government powers to regions within nations in her day, when even Europe was effectively large and disunited enough that individual nations could effectively set policies disregarding over-border mobility of capital) and the regulation, if a good idea, can still show some good effect and insofar as this translates into business sense, retain business despite the flight of capital. Thus, raising minimum wages locally in individual states over the federal level has not in fact ruined these economies; on the contrary, the redistribution of buying power to poorer working people has led to a multiplier effect that makes these states the more prosperous ones.

But generally speaking, especially with environmental regulations or social welfare policies, private business is very harsh with its threats when local governments propose to expand them, and have often followed through on responding by fleeing with a ruinous tendency.

Thus, a mindless adherence to "local control" can lead to beggar-thy-neighbor legislative arms races as each state races to the bottom in an attempt to curry favor with business elites, damn the poor and public in general.

This is why reactionaries are so devoted to "states' rights" rhetoric.

Not that they honor it consistently of course; the past decade has numerous examples of the Republicans using the power of Congress to legislate one-sided or least common denominator regulations in flagrant disregard of large majorities of state voters who have for instance voted to legalize the medical use of marijuana, and stands ready to trump the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, not to mention overriding local control in various matters such as the regulation of cable and other telecommunications.

Thus those of us who accept the idea that legislation at the national level is perfectly OK are far more consistent that those who proclaim they believe in states' rights, but only when it suits them.