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States are Obsolete; Let’s Abolish State Government

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The states of the United States have a long and glorious history. Some of them existed long before the Declaration of Independence. From 1776 to 1787 (when the Constitution was signed), the United States was merely a loose federation of states.

Fast forward to today. Starting with a clean slate, would any rational human choose to inject, in between national government and local government, an intermediate level of government with the bizarre mix of powers and lack of powers that our state governments have today?  It is true that we aren’t starting with a clean slate, but that is no excuse not to fix what is so badly broken. A constitutional amendment could eliminate this useless and expensive intermediate level of government

The list of reasons to abolish state governments is very long and compelling:

1. State governments attempt to make laws on national issues.

Especially recently, state governments have wasted much time and money legislating laws addressing what are logically national issues. Many of these issues are contentious, but, one way or the other, we need to have a consistent national policy. The definition of marriage, stem cell research, and similar issues need to be decided nationally. It makes no sense for two people to be considered married in one state, but not in another.

The list of other issues that need to be addressed nationally includes

* Immigration policy
* Health care standards
* Allowed medical treatments and drugs
* A person’s relationship with her doctor
* Food safety
* Environmental standards
* Automobile safety and mileage standards
* Voter registration requirements

2. Forced to raise revenue to fund federal requirements.

Authority and responsibility are not matched when states must raise revenues to fund federal requirements in areas such as unemployment benefits and welfare. The same legislators that pass laws need to take responsibility for funding them.

3. Crazy-quilt of sales tax laws.

Sales tax rates vary from no tax to over 10%. Worse yet, the rates vary by county as well as by state. This variation in taxes is expensive to administer, and creates a nightmare for small businesses located in border areas or doing business in multiple states.

Internet and mail order businesses are especially impacted by this crazy-quilt of sales tax laws. States lose revenue on interstate transactions, while small internet and mail order businesses struggle to comply with the laws of many jurisdictions.

4. Crazy-quilt of personal income tax laws.

State personal income taxes vary from no tax to a marginal rate of over 10%.

5. Crazy-quilt of corporate tax laws.

The rates and related regulations for corporate taxes vary widely by state. Further, states often compete to offer tax breaks to entice companies to move from other states. This generally creates a small benefit for the company’s new state, but a large loss for the previous state. The existence of state governments makes it much easier for big business to pay lower taxes and shift most of the tax burden to the people.

6. Competing in watering down consumer protection to attract companies.

Even worse than competing for corporate presence with tax giveaways is the practice of competing for corporations by watering down consumer protection laws. In one early and well known example, in 1981 Citibank moved its credit card operation to South Dakota, specifically because South Dakota law allowed them to charge very high interest rates (and other states aren’t allowed to protect their citizens from out-of-state banks).

7. Property taxes.

Historically, the main function of property taxes has been to pay for local public schools. Returning the collecting of property taxes to local government would be an improvement over collection at the state level. However, basing taxes on property value is a particularly unfair way to compute taxes. Historically, property taxes made more sense when land was visible, but income was easy to hide, but that argument is vastly overshadowed today by the unfairness of property taxes. Changes in the market value of property, either up or down, do not tend to reflect in any meaningful way the owner’s ability to pay those taxes. Corporate and personal income taxes, value added taxes, even sales taxes, are far more fair mechanisms for taxation.

8. Drivers licenses and vehicle registrations.

Drivers licenses, ID cards, and vehicle registrations are another area of inconsistent state regulation. Having these issued by the national government could create a secure system to positively identify citizens, as well as to cut costs and confusion.

Now is the time for a constitutional amendment to abolish state governments. Let the states become federal administrative districts, but without the power to create state laws.

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About Jonathan Lockwood Huie

  • Baronius

    On what basis do you believe that health care standards or tax rates need to be nationally consistent? That seems to be the basis of your argument against states, but you don’t explain why you believe it.

    I can tell you why I think that states need more authority. State power allows states to experiment and find things that work. These can be applied across states. Alternately, an idea that works in one state might not be successful in another, and with greater states’ rights, each is free to pursue a customized plan. And ultimately, voters in one state may just not want to change, no matter what works elsewhere. Democracy is more direct at the state level than at the federal.

  • Cannonshop

    I think our government is centralized quite enough power into too few hands, we don’t need to give it MORE-there is sufficient opportunity for corruption as it stands now without shifting to a true Imperial Power overseeing satrapies through a thoroughly corrupted civil-service structure.

  • Baronius

    “a person’s relationship with her doctor”

    I have a feeling that’s a euphemism for abortion, and that the author thinks that government should be forbidden from involvement in the relationship between a woman and her doctor. On the other hand, he’s calling for national standards for health care, which would greatly interfere with the doctor/patient relationship.

    But I’m still stuck on what the author calls “logically” national issues. Immigration policy, I can understand. But vehicle safely standards? Why is that logically national?

  • Boeke

    IMO the best thing is to eliminate the Senate. That’ll do most of the Good without adding new Bad.

  • zingzing

    “But vehicle safely standards? Why is that logically national?”

    cars cross state lines.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    I say let’s just let Texas and most of the rest of the South secede. That should solve a lot of problems already.

  • Boeke

    6-Glenn: that’s what Lincoln should have done 150 years ago.

  • Baronius

    Zing, I keep thinking of sarcastic replies, of the form “—- can cross state lines too”. But I’m afraid you’d say, fine, let’s nationally regulate —-, too. So let me put the question to you: is there anything that you think should be decided at the state level?

  • Clavos

    The author points out that eliminating the states will, among other things, correct the terrible situation wherein some states (four, I think) have no income tax. That’s the main reason I live in Florida, and before that, Texas. If there’s nowhere to escape state income taxation, it’ll be time to go home, where at least I can mordida my way out of paying taxes.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Clavos –

    Taxes are taken out one way or another. We have no income tax in Washington state…but we have a significantly higher sales tax than a lot of other states.

    Wherever you live, either taxes will be taken out to provide the government services you need, or you will pay for the lack of taxes by living with a lack of necessary government services. Taxes, Clavos, are the price of admission to live in a particular place…and generally speaking, the old saw that “you get what you pay for” DOES apply.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    Here’s an example of how some states like to use power:

    The Tennessee Senate today passed a bill that would prohibit local municipalities from enacting their own non-discrimination statues and would force them to rely on state law.

    The new law would “void a Nashville ordinance barring companies that discriminate against gays and lesbians from doing business with the city.”

    Isn’t that just heart-warmin’, y’all.

  • Clavos

    Glenn,

    I live in a state which has no income tax, I’m not charged higher sales tax (it’s 6% statewide with a 1% local option in a few areas). I don’t pay the state any other taxes directly, nor does any other permanent resident; the tourists do, through bed taxes and car rental taxes, attraction taxes, etc. We residents really have a lower individual tax burden than any other state I’ve lived in, including Texas, which also has no state income tax.

  • zingzing

    baronius: “is there anything that you think should be decided at the state level?”

    things that happen within a state and have no possibility of crossing state lines.

  • Cannonshop

    It’s very convenient to fantasize about one-size-fits-all solutions, but those rarely work, and have a dismal record of working well when they DO work.

    Handy, aren’t you glad you don’t live in Tennessee? Wouldn’t it suck rocks if, after banning state differences, a radical Krishchun government decided that everyone had to stop work on sunday, that sodomy was anything not missionary-position-with-someone-of-the-opposite-sex, and that it should include a five years or longer term at hard labour for every instance?

    The problem with overcentralized power is that you don’t have ANY guarantee as to whom will weild that power, their sanity, intelligence, common sense, etc. One of the most important protections you the citizen have against rampant, dangerous abuses, is built into the federal system-the central government is limited in what it may do, and most powers devolve to the several states, which allows places like Massachusetts AND allows places like Oklahoma, and you the citizen have the power to move to the one whose laws fit your point of view and morality better.

    It’s messier, and it’s less “efficient”, but that’s FREEDOM for you-freedom is neither neat, nor efficient, but it’s better than tyranny.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Clavos –

    What you don’t get is that Florida has some advantages – such as tourism being a truly major source of income for the state, not to mention the boost that government spending (such as the JFK space center) brings to the state.

    It’s not all about state or local taxes, Clavos – it’s never that simple.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act are not examples of ‘tyranny.’ Jim Crow was an example of tyranny.

    Some of these states’ rights arguments are made looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

  • Baronius

    Handy – If you follow through your reasoning in comment #11, the problem is that the higher level of government can’t be trusted. Do you think the solution is to give more power to an even higher level of government? Unless you’re arguing that states are somehow inherently discriminatory – that they promote racism against federal law and promote anti-homosexuality against local law – you’re not making a coherent point about states’ rights.

  • Clavos

    What you don’t get is that Florida has some advantages -

    Did I not just point out the biggest advantage to you? That was the whole point of my post — of course I get it, it’s a major part of my family’s decision to live here years ago. The tourists pay special, additional taxes on practically everything they buy or rent while here, and every year we ratchet them up another notch. Interestingly, surveys have shown that most tourists have no idea they’re paying all those taxes, even though they are disclosed on all the paperwork they receive with the bills.. Those taxes make it possible for the state to continue without an income tax; they even dropped the annual intangible tax people who own stocks had to pay because the tourist tax revenue is so lucrative.

    And don’t kid yourself, the vast majority of the space center money was paid out of state and never came here — — only a very small area immediately around the center got any real advantage out of it, and it was devastated when the space program was cut back a few years ago.

    Actually it is that simple, Glenn. I’ve been reaping the benefits of our tax/revenue structure off and on since the fifties.

  • S.T..M

    Yeah, do away with states … what a genius solution: let the federal government run everything. One step closer to the full-on nanny state.

    I live in Australia, where the same call is made from time to time.

    I just love the idea of those idiots in Canberra building up even bigger, more unwieldy federal bureaucracies than they have now and sticking their noses into all of our business instead of just some of it. State governments have their purposes … roads, licensing, education, healthcare, infrastructure, etc. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a single entity deciding on that? Not …

    I’m sure Americans can see the value of keeping their state governments too.

    I don’t believe there’s a better system of government than state and federal duality because it prevents the nanny state from growing any bigger than it already is.

  • Jim

    States are worthless entities. They have no redeeming qualities that can’t be performed better by local governments. The are just far enough removed from their communities to be disconnected, and far enough away from federal to be unaccountable for their actions(see Florida voter purges before elections).

    Local government is a place where more practical governance occurs, and ideological zealots are marginalized or removed altogether because people will come together to find real answers to social problems on a community level, that just doesn’t occur on larger entities like state. Issues like abortion, immigration etc, are more than just numbers, the are faces in your community, rather than political boogeymen and hyperbole.

  • every1partysystem

    I second notion of removing state level politics. In our era the differences between states is liberty infringing at best and exploitative at worst. I’d call for the elimination or severe reduction of states as a legislative entities..It seems to me that people don’t realize that its the states that control your every move and life decision in this country not the federal government. They also empower the so called local governments that attempt to regulate how we travel, and give local baron type personalities(as long as they are charming enough) opportunities to really invade your privacy, and harass you for everything from how tall your grass is to how you dispose of chewing gum. Everybody talks about freedom in this country but its totally nonexistent. Its a fantasy and probably not even possible anywhere. If it does it will be found by eliminating the system that arbitrarily edicts laws and freedoms based on geography and move to a system that conforms to people and their ideals a fellow in one states should not have different rights than someone in another state if they are both USA citizens. I propose we adopt a “virtual” state and faction system that builds laws,rights,and responsibilities based on the ideals of the people who individually AGREE to live by them and not INHERIT laws from ages past just because we are born or live somewhere on the map provincialism is divisive and primitive…Baranius said: “State power allows states to experiment and find things that work.”
    I think its dehumanizing that these ancient monolithic entities (states) are given license to “experiment” with peoples lives often contrary to the elected policy of the entire nation.
    progressively the legislative rights of state local and federal governments should be severely limited to regulating property, large scale commerce, protection of human and civil rights especially from corporate monetary agendas. Regarding taxation..totally voluntary, and based on civilians faction/union/activities, not age or income level..in fact money is obsolete too..”project/faction” credits can move resources where they are most needed according to peoples ideals/values instead of whos clan has accumulated the most beads.GTFO of here with that savagery, we’re still in the stone ages things just look cleaner.

  • Victor Croasdale

    These are all good reasons for abolish state ability to create law.
    Additional ones include, inter alia:
    1 Professional registration. It’s normal for professional registration (Ie Professional Engineer, Architect, Teacher etc.) in one state not to be recognised in another state. This then becomes a cost if one wishes to move to or work in another state.
    2 Marriage. It’s possible to be lawfully married in one state and the marriage not recognised in another.
    To those who insist that the States somehow prevent a tyranny of the Fedearl govt. Was it the states or the feds who fought to keep Jim Crow laws?
    Was it the state or the feds who introduced the idea polution was a bad thing and that polution controls were needed.
    If more power is to be given to the federal govt, then real campaign finance laws are required, (this may require a change in the constitution) to prevent elections being sold to the highest bidder as they are at present.