In The Upside-Down Constitution, Michael Greve argues that the decision to establish a federal republic wasn’t about administrative convenience or about respecting the sovereign authority of the states that had declared their independence from the British crown. Rather, it was about protecting the interests of citizens by having state governments compete amongst themselves. With real competition, no state government could treat its citizens too shabbily, as these citizens would have the choice of finding a more congenial state government within the Union. To be sure, migration of this kind was an arduous process in the late 18th century, but the threat of large-scale defection was nevertheless a potent one that had the potential to keep would-be local tyrants in line. Over the last century, however, state governments have increasingly colluded with the federal government to dampen competition, just as business enterprises collude against their customers.
So how can we restore real competition among the states? The first and best thing would be to establish clearer lines of authority between problems that ought to be handled by the states and by the federal government. That is the subject of my latest column for Reuters Opinion.