Laboratories of Democracy

I have been thinking about the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution (FF&C) and how that has played out in some areas of public policy. Specifically I have been thinking about how some areas of policy allow for states to pick and choose what faith and credit they apply to the policies of other states and how that contributes to the laboratories of democracy that out states were expected to become within our nation.

Specifically I woke up thinking about gun rights. This is not because I carry a gun for my own protection, although I fully support a broad interpretation to the 2nd Amendment, it is simply because it provided a convenient illustration of the issue.

Full faith and credit might be used to argue that every state should be required to accept a concealed carry permit issued by any other state. In fact they do not. Each state is able to set their own requirements to carry such a permit and also to permit reciprocity of permit recognition with other states on a state-by-state basis. The thing that got me thinking of that is that Utah’s permit is one of the most widely recognized permits in the nation.

This lack of uniformity among the various states allows people to experiment with different approaches to problems and different variations on legislation. Each state is then able to recognize and/or duplicate what they see as successful in other states. This is true of individuals as well as states. For example, gays who wish to marry are free to move to Massachusetts while residents of Massachusetts may choose to leave the state if they find themselves in the minority and do not like the side effects of legalized homosexual marriage.

This kind of legislative experimentation was short circuited in the abortion debate when the Supreme Court stepped in and eliminated a wide range of available positions that had been adopted by many of the states. The Defense of Marriage Act was passed specifically in an effort to ensure that the debate about what constituted legal marriage would be allowed to follow its natural course between states rather than ahving that debate hijacked by the courts or by the argument of FF&C combined with a Massachusetts choosing to be the first to recognize a form of marriage that was prohibited elsewhere.

I don’t think we will be able to solve our national issues in any reasonable time frame unless we quit thinking that we have to solve everything from the top down with one unified solution for each issue. We should allow each state to decided which problems they feel are the most pressing and to push for solutions on those issues. That allows all the issues to be addressed simultaneously and for different approaches to be tested on each issue. If we had ten major issues that were widely considered to be our most pressing we might find that there are four to six states choosing to tackle each issue allowing us to test four to six approaches to each problem simultaneously. The other 44 to 46 states can adopt their favorite approach, or mix and match for a second round of experimentation.

It seems to me that there is only one truly federal problem that we face – that is our overspending habit by the federal government. The solution to that one problem is simple – start spending less by getting out of the business of trying to solve all the problems of the country. Start acting like a coach managing the strategy direction and development of the team (which includes states on defense and private enterprise on offense) rather than trying to be the star player trying to single-handedly carry the team to a championship.

2 comments for “Laboratories of Democracy

  1. November 12, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    Uniformity is highly overrated. Great diversity among the states should be permitted in most things.

    I do not agree that federal overspending is the only national problem. There are certainly some matters that should be addressed at the national level, but far fewer than are currently handled at that level. Unfortunately, we are presently in a pattern (and have been for a while) of amassing power at the federal level. State and local governments are increasingly limited and hamstrung by our national government, when the intent was for it to be the other way around.

  2. November 12, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    What other problems do you think we are facing now that should be addressed at the federal level?

    I would even go so far as to say that diversity among the states should be encouraged in many areas – especially among those areas where we are seeking solutions.

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