This is the fourth in the series, A Soft Landing, which explores how we might achieve a more just, equitable society without violent revolution.
The Achilles’ heel of our present government is the idiosyncratic status of our fifty States. They vary widely in breadth (Alaska claims 17% of our total land area; Rhode Island a mere 0.03%), population (12% of us live in California, only 0.18% in Wyoming) and income (Maryland’s median household income of $75K+ is almost twice that of Mississippi’s $40K). They have to the power to legislate, litigate, and tax, oftentimes contrary to the Federal government (consider today’s havoc about marijuana). In theory, state and federal governments address different aspects of our society. In truth, ever since we abandoned the Articles of Confederation in favor of a stronger national government, the Feds have selectively absorbed more and more functions. Whether under the guise of fairness, equity, or simply to expand power; whether labeled the New Deal, the New Frontier, or the New Federalism, today’s Federal government has its fingers in every aspect of local life.
In a world of increased interdependence, there’s logic to Federal ascendency. Despite the current vogue of tribal and nationalist sentiment; centralized government, corporate business, and mass communication is spreading all over the earth. The trend is inevitable: we will become more and more technologically, economically, and politically interconnected until we collapse under our own weight and trigger the next Dark Age.
In the meantime, the United States is saddled with historical states that guarantee outsize influence to our rural populace and white people. I can’t foresee how we create a new Constitution that doesn’t continue, in some form, this hodgepodge of states. For starters, states are the mechanism for assembling a Constitutional Convention, as well as the vehicle of ratification. Perhaps others can envision a way to transition states out of active governance — let them be cultural and historical artifacts — but I just don’t see them voting themselves out of existence.