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Federal Division of Powers and Governance in the US

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Is the federal division of powers an obstruction to good governance in the United States?

The federal division of powers does not provide an obstruction to good governance in the US. For this argument to hold, federal division of power and good governance will be defined. This division provides for different levels of government representing the interests of the people rather than there being further layers of bureaucracy. Different examples will be used to show that the federal division of power does not hinder the goal of good governance.

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The term horizontal division of power applies to the separation in the federal government between the Presidency, Supreme Court and Congress. This answer will mainly concentrate on the vertical division of power between the federal, state and local governments.

Firstly, the federal division of power has different meanings in different temporal contexts. The Founding Fathers envisaged the federal division of power as a form of ‘dual sovereignty’ whereby the national and state governments had separate responsibilities as defined in the Constitution.

‘Dual sovereignty’ in most cases was the pattern until the New Deal when circumstances changed and there was an increase in federal government activity infiltrating the power of the states. This made it impossible to divide government in such a definite way. The increased involvement of federal government has been inevitable because of the national integration of the economy with mass media, communications and finance.

A division of power implies that there is a partition or split in the powers governing America. Superficially this is the case because there is; the Federal government that is internally separated, there are fifty State governments and under this, there are various municipality, district and regional governments. Nowadays, political life cannot be so perfectly compartmentalised because there must be adaptation and interaction to cope with unforeseen and unintended situations. Policy making bridges the division between the many governments. There must be co-operation between the bodies because without co-operation and negotiation the effectiveness of government would deteriorate. Elazar has coined the phrase “the American Partnership” to describe the relationship of those in the power division. This quote shows the co-operation and power sharing for the common goal of the prosperity of the country. Walker and Watts call the intergovernmental co-operative arrangements “marble cake or fruit cake federalism.” This reveals that there is no neat division but more of a fusion of interests across an amalgamation, rather than a divide. The element of interaction varies constantly and differs between the functions and operations of the various governments, but power is always shared. The states have a central role as a mid point between the locality and national government. If this dynamic and variable division of power works well, with emphasis on co-operation and partnership then there will be effective governance.

Secondly, knowledge of what good governance entails is required in order judge the attributes of the federal division of power. Prior to defining good governance, it must firstly be stated that it is not absolute, it can be applied in varying degrees and this will be allowed for in the essay. Outwardly, there are a number of immediate characteristics of good governance. In a broad sense, these include; whether voting preferences are transferred to the legislative arena; stability, both economic and social; and, law and order enforcement. The elected institution will have stated goals and methods of achieving them, such as territorial defence and the achievement of economic objectives. Good governance is defined as whether or not the government or political process functions efficiently and effectively in achieving its objectives. The achievement of objectives can only take place in a competent system. The opponent to my argument would state that the federal division of power does not allow for efficient and effective operation of its institutions, thus effecting the achievement of good governance. Separate parts of the federal division represent people on different issues. It thus must be considered whether these objectives are achieved at the local, state and national level. This leads to the question: Does America have any stated objectives? Ostensibly, yes there are, through investigating party manifestos or agency goals but there is no concise objective list for the operation of good governance, however, it would be wrong to think that such a vast society would be able to produce one. Good governance may cited as when the state has the responsibility of providing a proper environment for the operation of a market economy and the government reflects the popular will of the citizens of the country. The government is therefore legitimate and accountable and the focus is the people. James Madison in the Federalist, number forty-five stated “the public good, the real welfare of the great body of the people, is the supreme object to be pursued.” This is my interpretation of good governance because government is about the people of the country. If government at all levels has the common good of the people as an objective and there is a determination to have efficient and effective government, then there will be good governance. The notion of good governance cannot be captured in an objective definition because of its moral basis with each person having his or her own opinion of what it entails. It is also possible that good governance is an ideal that is unattainable, it serves as something to strive toward but there are always certain circumstances in which it is possible that a policy may be carried out more effectively.

Finally, ‘obstruction’ in this context is an ambiguous term. The case is whether the ideal platform of good governance is possible given that the federal division of power may provide an obstruction. Thus I am looking into the retardation of good governance or simply a block in achieving good governance because of the federal division of power. Obstruction in this situation does not mean impassable because good governance may be accomplished in varying degrees.

These definitions are used to show that the federal division of powers does not provide an obstruction to good governance. Three examples are used to illustrate this: New Federalism, Fire Arms and Urban Policy.

Since Nixon and Reagan’s attempts at “New Federalism” there have been efforts to enlarge the role of the states. This shows Federal recognition that co-operation with a strong state is essential for the efficient and effective government responding to the will of the people. Reagan perceived that the system was not working well and strived toward greater efficiency. The essence of the problem is that some functions are suitable for the state or local level and some for the national level, so, the federal division helps the path to good governance rather than hindering it. A complex and high budget programme such as ‘medicaid’, organised by the federal government ensured that the states were relieved of $19.1 billion. Other services such as housing assistance are more suited to the state level, where there can be more efficient organisation on a smaller scale in response to specific local needs. Federal division of power does not obstruct good governance because through co-operation and identification of the best level to carry out the policy a better end is achieved.

In 1981, Reagan achieved the best victory of his “New Federalism”, arguably achieved by the favourable conditions in Congress. Reagan managed to cut the federal income tax rate by twenty five percent, nine block grants were consolidated from seventy-seven programmes and sixty two additional programmes were terminated. There was a drive of efficiency and through the streamlining of these programmes good governance was sought. By fact that Reagan’s attempts after 1981 failed shows the effectiveness of the division of power. Mayors and governors were angered by the increased funding burden that Reagan was placing on them. They communicated this anger to their representatives in Congress and there was as Caraley calls it, “a politics of stalemate” – Reagan was unable to fully change the financial burden onto the states because the states were incapable of being financially independent. Reagan’s welfare proposals were not seen as the most efficient way of dealing with the situation when considered by more than one component in the arena. So, through the division of power there are checks and balances between the levels of government. Reagan’s motive was more economic in order to reduce the amount of federal spending. If Reagan had achieved his objective of changing the welfare burden, then there would be problems of income distribution because the states or municipalities with a high proportion of poorer people would find it impossible to provide welfare because of the low taxable base in the population. Taxes would spiral in order to pay the welfare bill with the burden placed on the wealthier and smaller part of the population. If this were the case then there would be an enticement for rich people to move to areas with lower levels of taxation and this would cause further problems for the poor areas to provide welfare and services. This can be seen from examining data from 1980 when Newark, Baltimore, Buffalo, San Francisco, New York City and Milwaukee had between fifty and sixty percent of their expenditure funded by federal and state aid. If this aid was not to continue then it would place these municipalities in an impractical situation with decreasing levels of welfare and services. But, how does this constitute good government? Striving toward an equal distribution of income and wealth is an objective for the government and would be an objective for those members of society with a social conscience and I implicitly assume that these members of society are in the majority. The equal distribution of wealth, provided that it reflects the aspirations of the people is another component of good government. This example also shows that there cannot be a simple division of power to solve the problem of the allotment of fiscal resources, but that it is always changing and there are different interactions providing solutions to the situation. The most efficient method evolves through the interaction between all of the levels in the vertical division and for a particular policy, one level of government emerges as the superlative to implement it.

The issue of firearms in America provides an interesting example of federal and state relations. One of the aspects of good governance referred to in the definition is law and order enforcement. If those with firearms are not using them in the appropriate way, then a serious law and order problem arises. The expansion of the federal role was based on the inter-state commerce clause of the Constitution, which allows for the regulation of activities that have an effect on commerce between states. In the case of United States v. Lopez (1995) the Supreme Court dismissed the fact that guns effected commerce near schools. This case was in response to the 1990 Gun free schools Act, based on the premise that guns result in crime and crime effects the economy. This predicament has two interesting points. Firstly, if the majority of the people desire no gun control and this has adverse consequences, then how can this reconcile with law and order being a requirement of good governance? The majority desires of the citizens should in most cases be adhered to but only on the proviso that an anarchic situation does not result and a stable society is maintained. Secondly, is it right that the Supreme Court can strike down a law made in Congress? Congress should be the representative of the will of the people, that is the collective will of the desires of the undifferentiated people of the US. If any level of government oversteps the level given by the Constitution then it is curbed. The outcome of this situation seems alien coming from our British political perspective. The firearms issue shows an important feature of the system in that there are checks and balances, which should provide efficient government. Checks and balances are not an obstruction they ensure that the most effective policy is implemented. The difficulty in this scenario arises from the fact that there is no Constitutional basis for a federal ruling on fire arms, but it is up to the states to adopt their own law. Each state therefore has a strength in analysing its particular predicament and can respond accordingly to its own situation.

There are certain policies more suited to execution on a smaller scale than on a federal scale in a country as large as the US. A prime example of this is urban policy and it is the execution of this policy on a state and municipal level that provides more efficient governance than if policy was attempted at the federal level. Local government can react to specific local needs when provided with federal aid. 1978 was a peak year of direct federal aid to localities with community development being a major category. This helped problems in the major cities. In Baltimore there were problems of inner-city economic and social deprivation caused by the change in the industrial base of the city resulting in unemployment and its associated social repercussions. A water front development project was devised in order to help these problems and to bring prosperity back to the core of the city. This project was successful in reversing the effects of Baltimore becoming a ‘doughnut’ city with no prosperity at the core of the city. The division of power does not obstruct efficient policy implementation. Effective governance is provided by a combination of local knowledge of the problems and federal finance. Federal aid is needed because of the problem of a low taxable base in poor areas, which if there was no federal aid would result in a smaller revenue and fewer services provided.

In summary, the federal division of powers does not provide an effective obstruction to good governance in the US. This is clearly shown by the interaction between different levels of government that formulate the best possible method of dealing with various problems. It is dependent on the time and on the issue. A large federal power is needed in modern times because of the integrated nature of the economy. James Bryce, a nineteenth century critic, believed that federalism made matters worse because of the dispersal of authority. In objection to this suggestion the nature of the co-operation and power sharing between the different levels of government shows that federal division provides an effective path to good governance. There are obviously occasions when there is confusion between the governments but it is precisely this path toward good governance that is the objective of the governments and this path is not obstructed by the division of power.

·Brisbin, R., “The Reconstitution of American Federalism? The Rehnquist Court and Federal-State Relations, 1991-1997”, Publius: The Journal of Federalism, 28, 1, 1998

·Caraley, D., “Changing Conceptions of Federalism”, Political Science Quarterly, 101, 2, 1986

·Conlan, Timothy, New Federalism: Intergovernmental Reform from Nixon to Reagan, 1988

·Elazar, Daniel, American Federalism: A View from the States, (2nd ed.) 1972

·Reagan, Michael and Sanzone, John, The New Federalism, 1981

·Watts, R., “The American Constitution in Comparative Perspective: A Comparison of Federalism in the US and Canada”, Journal of American History, 1987

Bibliography:
·Brisbin, R., “The Reconstitution of American Federalism? The Rehnquist Court and Federal-State Relations, 1991-1997”, Publius: The Journal of Federalism, 28, 1, 1998
·Caraley, D., “Changing Conceptions of Federalism”, Political Science Quarterly, 101, 2, 1986
·Conlan, Timothy, New Federalism: Intergovernmental Reform from Nixon to Reagan, 1988
·Elazar, Daniel, American Federalism: A View from the States, (2nd ed.) 1972
·Reagan, Michael and Sanzone, John, The New Federalism, 1981
·Watts, R., “The American Constitution in Comparative Perspective: A Comparison of Federalism in the US and Canada”, Journal of American History, 1987

Cite this Federal Division of Powers and Governance in the US

Federal Division of Powers and Governance in the US. (2018, Jul 16). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/mr3/

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