Sunday, April 23, 2006

What To Do With Failed Experiments?

There's a pretty decent article in the NYT today about the growing divergence in certain policy positions among the states. I personally tend to favor a strong federal government; it just makes sense to me that things like educational curricula and drivers' licenses should be administered at the national level. But I find the "laboratory of democracy" argument compelling as well... letting individual states try out different policies appeals to the empiricist in me. While I was reading the article I was thinking something along the lines of "sounds good... states that choose unwise policies will just wither up and die... wait...". That's where the laboratory analogy breaks down; states aren't discrete little entities that live or die on their own merits. They're part of the larger economic/cultural ecosystem of the US and their choices have impacts beyond their own borders. This would be less of an issue if there were some kind of assurance that states were self-correcting. If we knew that states that made bad policy decisions would eventually fix themselves then it wouldn't be an issue for them to be broken for 5 or 10 years. But Mississippi isn't going to throw in the towel and let itself be annexed by Connecticut, nor does it show any signs of coming out of its slump on its own. So these "problem states" (you know who you are) sit around, sucking up resources and generating social disfunction, leaving everyone else to deal with the collateral damage. At what point do the rest of the states in this glorious union get to say "Enough already"? Even if you could figure that one out how the hell would you go about enforcing it? That's the real kicker, right there. There's no good mechanism that I'm aware of for a set of states to compel another state to change its ways. If more things were taken care of at the federal level you'd always have the option of "throwing da' bums out". But what to do when your backwater neighboring state is creating a generation of ignorant teenage mothers because they teach about ID but not about contraception? As far as I can tell there's not a damn thing you can do about it, though clearly there needs to be some recourse. So I'm going to remember this the next time someone starts talking about states' rights. If we're all in the same boat, what do you do with someone who refuses to pull an oar?


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