The United States of America

From dualistic simplicity to centralized complexity

Authored by: John Kincaid

Routledge Handbook of Regionalism and Federalism

Print publication date:  May  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415566216
eBook ISBN: 9780203395974
Adobe ISBN: 9781136727627


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Since 1789, US federalism has moved toward centralization and, since the late 1960s, toward coercive federalism – namely, a greater concentration of powers in the federal government and a greater ability of that government to impose its will on the states and their local governments with little or no consultation with state and local officials (Kincaid, 1990, 1993b, 2011). Political and social forces have propelled centralization because proponents of change seek to implement their ideas nationwide, not in a few states. The large geographic and population sizes of the United States, its large number of constituent states (i.e. 33 by 1859, 48 by 1912 and 50 by 1959), and its regionalized cultural and socio-economic diversity have contributed to policy nationalization through federal action rather than state-by-state action or interstate compacts, uniform state laws and reciprocity. Many reforms start in the states – which US Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis called ‘laboratories of democracy’ (New State Ice Company v. Liebmann 1932) – but are nationalized as soon as politically feasible. Nevertheless, the implementation of federal policies by state and local governments is largely cooperative and the states, as constitutional polities, still legislate independently in many fields.

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