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« Trivia Tidbit of the Day: Part 527 -- Government Spending More Than Doubled Since 1965, Even After Inflation Taken Into Account. | WILLisms.com | Social Security Reform Thursday: Part 76 -- Social Security Crisis Nearer Than Common Wisdom Holds. »

Trivia Tidbit of the Day: Part 528 -- Bailing Out States... A 1960s Legacy.

States As Laboratories For Policy Ideas Died With LBJ-

Once upon a time, America was a truly federalist system, where the notion that "all politics is local" was not at all controversial or questionable.

The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s often hinged on an argument about whether the Federal government had the right to impose mandates, rules, regulations, and edicts upon states. It was a 10th Amendment argument: that which is not spelled out in the U.S. Constitution is left to the various states.

Before the 1960s, the concept of states' rights actually carried weight in our judicial system. The 10th Amendment was not disrespected the way it is today, and states still reserved more rights and responsibilities than the federal government.

However, because the Civil Rights movement was such an important moral imperative, courts and legislators and the President essentially crushed the 10th Amendment in favor of standardized federal rules against discrimination. Our country is a better, fairer, more prosperous place because of the Civil Rights movement.

Unfortunately, when the concept of federalism was killed on behalf of the Civil Rights movement, it opened the floodgates for greater government control in Washington, D.C. of what had always been considered state-level decisions. Speed limits. Education curricula. Vehicle emissions. Everything.

Today, all but a couple of Governors seek federal bailouts for their states. Since the 1960s, the number of federal grant programs to states has grown almost exponentially (.pdf):


It's interesting that these grants have tracked higher and higher state and local government spending over the same time period (although you can see that Reagan put the kibosh on a lot of federal grants to states).

No wonder so many Governors now line up at the federal trough seeking federal government cheese. Believing in federal supremacy is now the default position in our political culture; the 10th Amendment is just some antiquated bit of filler text.

As someone who believes that competition makes most everything better, it is sad that we're increasingly subsidizing bad ideas in poorly-performing states at the expense of good ideas in well-performing states, all while standardizing so many bad ideas from the top-down.

The death of the 10th Amendment is the worst legacy of all-- worse even than the music of Jefferson Airplane-- left behind by the 1960s.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Spending Growth Unsustainable.

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