Feds Have Already "Left It to the States"

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

George Will's latest piece is an interesting exploration of an apparent paradox: the ever-growing intrusion of improper government into our daily lives has occurred despite statistics showing little growth in the number of federal bureaucrats since the 1960's. His main point is that the federal government has expanded, "by indirection, using three kinds of 'administrative proxies' -- state and local government, for-profit businesses, and nonprofit organizations":

Since 1960, the number of state and local government employees has tripled to more than 18 million, a growth driven by federal money: Between the early 1960s and early 2010s, the inflation-adjusted value of federal grants for the states increased more than tenfold. For example, the EPA has fewer than 20,000 employees, but 90 percent of EPA programs are completely administered by thousands of state government employees, largely funded by Washington.

A quarter of the federal budget is administered by the fewer than 5,000 employees of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) -- and by the states, at least half of whose administrative costs are paid by CMS. Various federal crime and homeland security bills help fund local police departments. "By conservative estimates," DiIulio writes, "there are about 3 million state and local government workers" -- about 50 percent more than the number of federal workers -- "funded via federal grants and contracts."
Given the well-known practice of the feds passing implementation down to the states, the only major surprise here is, perhaps, the extent to which this has occurred.

But there is another wrinkle. I recall hearing someone from the right propose that the way to rein in the EPA would be to leave environmental regulation to the states. I have never been tempted by such proposals since I remember the admonition against replacing one tyranny with fifty. This view is a corollary of the idea that a properly delimited government only protects individual rights, and it is ultimately the proper objection to any such proposal. But some will be tempted to indicate, nevertheless, that a non-uniform propensity for tyranny among the states can be a useful way to buy time against federal tyranny. This article shows that such an argument may not apply at all since so much of the dirty work of the federal welfare state is carried out by local governments and private entities. Indeed, my "fifty tyrannies" objection now appears to apply in some cases even against this as an idea for buying time.

-- CAV

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