Leave It to the States

Six or so out-of-town summer trips down, only four more to go before the start of the Fall semester—at which point I’ll be able to resume regular blogging, and maybe even some actual research and writing. Pending that merciful eventuality, here’s my Wall Street Journal review of Adam Freedman’s recent federalism manifesto, A Less Perfect Union: The Case For States’ Rights.

I’ve met Adam occasionally at Manhattan Institute events. He’s a thoroughly good guy; creative thinker; great writer. Obviously I don’t agree with every chord in his federalism riff. Foremost: while Adam does a manful job in defense of “states’ rights,” I remain skeptical. It’s not just that the phrase is loaded with too much baggage; it also suggests the idea of “federalism” as a protection for what the Supreme Court calls “states as states,” meaning state politicians and their hangers-on can effectively serve as a protection against overarching federal power. But this is of diminishing value when the Feds give the states “free” federal money as a matter of course. Any expectation that Washington would then leave them alone is unrealistic. And it quickly leads to the rentseekers-of-the-world-unite federalism with which we should not tolerate; and in fact, Adam Freedman makes a trenchant, eloquent case to that effect. But is that enough? Kudos.