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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Corporate and U.S. Government Antipathy toward Federalism

In October of 2009, the U.S. House Financial Services Committee voted to give the federal government the power to block the states from regulating large national banks in some circumstances. The compromise approved by the House allows the Comptroller of the Currency to override the states, but only if that office found that the state law “significantly” interfered with federal regulatory policies.  This clears the way for a new federal agency to protect consumers from abusive or deceptive credit cards, mortgages and other loans.  Adoption of the compromise was a partial setback for the banking industry, which would have preferred to avoid having to comply with state laws that are sometimes stricter than federal rules.  Barak Obama and Barney Frank were pushing in the other direction—for subjecting banks to the relatively strict state laws with no chance of appeal to the US. Government.

This case of compromise points to the influence of large corporations on the Congress as a culprit in the on-going eclipse of federalism.  Large corporations operating in many of the American republics would rather have one regulatory infrastructure, so they push the U.S. Government to assert itself at the expense of the State governments using pre-emption.  Even where the federal government is silent in a policy domain, it can keep the State governments out. This is not to say that industry is the only force behind the march toward consolidation.  Obama and Frank were no doubt assuming that health-care and education are properly directed at the level of the U.S. Government rather than by the States.  This involves adding strings to the spending clause of the U.S. Constitution.

While it might be more convenient to have Washington as the point-person, we might miss the checks and balances permitted by a viable federal system wherein the State governments can hold back an encroaching federal government.  Moreover, we might wonder whether one legislative size fits all in a Union of republics that spans a continent.  There is a reason why the delegates in the constitutional convention designed a federal system; they weren’t just acting on a whim.

So here is my basic point: the present holders of power might have incentives to use it at the expense of the long-term viability of our system of public governance.  In other words, it might not be in the interest of our federal officials and corporation executives and boards to maintain the viability of our federal system. To the extent that their interest prevails in spite of the inherent diversity in the United States, this could be the empire’s undoing before our eyes.

Source:  Compromise Bill Could Block States on Bank Rules http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/22/business/22comptroller.html?ref=politics