When something becomes too big, it is or is perceived to be domineering and dictatorial. America was formed in response to an overbearing Britain. To quote the Declaration of Independence: But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
In writing the constitution, the framers were mindful of this, and built a structure intended to prevent a federal government from ever getting too big. They did this by separating power in two ways - federally with three "independent" branches (executive, legislative, judicial), and overall with federal, state and local governments (or more appropriately - federal and not federal).
But today these layers are so tightly connected that they can't really act independently - the state and local governments are so economically beholden to the Feds that there is no practical checks/balances capability (biting the hand that feeds gets toothless pretty quickly).
I favor a (benevolent) central model vs. a local/state/federal model. The American system is redundant, inefficient, and with a dearth of great (even good) leaders (but a surplus of great egos), suffering from bad management and egregious excess. In tough time, the more layers you have the less revenue each layer is able to collect; the less each layer is able to raise, and with bad management, the more the whole system (not to mention the citizens) are at risk.
Creating a central government would of course require a serious Constitutional amendment, but is closer than you might think. If this had been a slightly deeper and more protracted recession/depression (Detroit plans to literally shut down parts of the city because it's too expensive to service them (street lights, police patrols, trash pickup, etc.); elsewhere schools are closing, teachers laid off, hospitals are cutting back, state employees are furloughed, it's endless), I bet a dozen States would have declared bankruptcy and ceded control to a higher power, ultimately creating the United State of America (note the singular).
It's not just America - Greece, Spain and Portugal in the European Union are all struggling. The "Northern" Eurozone (Germany, France) and their taxpayers will bear the brunt of bailing them out, and while they agree the bailout should happen, there is also resentment. "Why are we always sending € billions to them?? All they ever do is go on strike and take vacations!" In the United States we have angst against Wall Street, the automobile manufacturers, and even consumers who can't manage their own debt; think of how New York and Texas will feel if they have to bail California out.
What happens if the United States or European Union fails? What then?
We need a different approach to government.
Most people don't like centralization, believing it results in bloat, bureaucracy, declining services to the citizenry, and worst of all, the risk of an unchecked power running roughshod.
I agree :-) -- BUT - I'm pretty sure we already have this in our current Federal/State/Local government model???
The Constitution delineated Federal responsibilities based on specific portfolios (foreign policy, treasury, military, etc.) combined with omission (what's left is state or local). This was fine when things were easily separable, and there was physically no way for a central government to reach and connect to every corner of the land. Neither is true today. Not only are there overlaps in purview, but the physical portfolios are so intertwined that changes in one have ripple effects on others, and most critically the citizens.
Is there a way to create a government system that achieves both the efficiency and equitability of centralization with the effectiveness, local empathy, balance and accountability of de-central? I wrote about federalizing education, where the Feds were responsible for "the what" and the schools (local leadership) "the how." Extrapolating this to the larger context:
The What - Centralized Laws, Mandate and Funding. This body will set:
- Rights - create the fundamental laws and principles that should govern the land
- Vision - define success, identify the "customer," the desired outcome, and how it will be measured, and most critically, have a long-term perspective
- Funding - raise money and provide financing; $$ per outcome, penalties for non-performance, bonuses for exceptional performance
- Oversight - policy and remediation; clear process to track performance, and manage poor performance
- Synchronization - look across programs to create leverage, economies of scale, manage interoperability
- People-focused - they serve at the pleasure of the citizenry
The How - Decentralized Service Delivery. These bodies will be:
- Focused - suited to one task (middle school, building bridges, public transportation, hospitals, etc.)
- Public or Private - could either be government owned with federal employees or private
- Local, regional or central - organizational structure and span based on need (TSA = central, road builders specializing in cold weather = regional, school = local or regional or national)
- Outcome-driven - compelled to deliver per the metrics and oversight above
- Creative - not constrained by "tried and true;" free-market approach to problems and opportunities
- Customer-centered- their customer is the central government, whose customer is the citizenry
Is it this simple? No - but I think simplicity + decoupling funding and oversight from execution is how a government should be run.