My New Washington Post Op Ed on How Federalism Became Great Again on the Left

In recent years, many liberals have come to develop a new appreciation for constitutional limits on federal power. Whether the trend continues remains to be seen.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

The Washington Post Outlook section has just published my article on "How Liberals Learned to Love Federalism." Here's an excerpt:

This is what the battle over federalism looked like in the United States for many decades: Conservatives sought to limit federal power over state and local governments, and liberals tried to expand it….

For many liberals, the ideal of state and local independence was permanently tainted by Southern states' "massive resistance" to federal attempts to remedy racial discrimination in the 1950s and '60s. "If one disapproves of racism, one should disapprove of federalism," political scientist William Riker categorically asserted in 1964.

But in the Trump era, many progressives are rediscovering the merits of federalism. They are finding that state and local governments can serve as an important check on a president whose policies they deplore, and — even more striking, given the history of the debate — that states and cities can provide valuable protection for vulnerable minorities….

Some of the most important legal battles over federalism in recent years are playing out around the question of whether "sanctuary cities" and states that oppose the Trump administration's immigration policies must help enforce them. So far, judges from across the ideological spectrum have largely sided with the sanctuary jurisdictions. But conflicts between "blue" jurisdictions and the federal government have flared up across a range of policy areas, from drugs to carbon emissions to physician-assisted suicide.

Liberals, in short, are helping to make federalism great again.

Some politicians are surely using federalism opportunistically, as a tool to promote their policy preferences. This new liberal appreciation for a legal doctrine they had long resisted may not last into the next Democratic administration. But Americans of every political stripe have much to gain from stronger enforcement of constitutional limits on federal authority. One-size-fits-all federal policies often work poorly in a highly diverse and ideologically polarized nation. Giving more power to states and localities can make it easier for political adversaries to coexist in relative peace….

Federalism can also enhance Americans' opportunities to "vote with their feet," moving to other states or cities whose policies align with their own. With such moves, millions of Americans have, historically, improved their political and economic circumstances….

Of course, it is possible that recent liberal praise for constitutional constraints on federal power will prove to be an example of "fair-weather federalism," the tendency of both left and right to rely on federalism whenever their opponents control the White House, only to jettison it when they themselves are in power…. But there may be a trend here that goes beyond short-term partisanship….

Liberals and conservatives alike can benefit from stronger constraints on federal power. Each party can gain from protecting local diversity and experimentation, and from the insurance federalism provides in times when its opponent hold the reins of power in Washington. Left and right can agree on the need for substantial constitutional limits on federal power, even if they differ on exactly how tight those limits should be….

Liberals may be tempted to abandon their newfound interest in federalism when and if they regain the White House. The "democratic socialist" wing of the Democratic Party would probably prefer to expand federal power over many issues. But Democrats would do well to remember that Trump may not be the last president whose policies pose a threat to minorities or imperil blue-state priorities on the environment and other issues. Nor are the dangers of overcentralization in a diverse society likely to disappear anytime soon.

Part of the article is devoted to Trump-era legal battles over federalism and sanctuary cities—the area where the shifting political valence of federalism is most strikingly evident. I discussed those cases in greater detail in my recent Texas Law Review article about them.

UPDATE: The Washington Post was published on the same day as the Ninth Circuit issued City of Los Angeles v. Barr, the first sanctuary city case grant condition case that the Trump administration actually won, after a long string of defeats. My article was completed and set for publication before the decision came down, so I could not include include it in that piece; indeed, the article and the Ninth Circuit ruling came out at almost the exact same hour. However, I have since written a post about the decision, which is available here. As I explain in the post, the aberrational outcome is in large part the product of the unusual structure of the grant program at issue in the case.

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  1. “Of course, it is possible that recent liberal praise for constitutional constraints on federal power will prove to be an example of “fair-weather federalism,” ”

    Possible? The Sun rising tomorrow is only barely less certain.

    1. Careful, pointing out the obvious is apt to upset the victims of progressive educators here.

    2. Except it isn’t even “fair-weather” Federalism. The Left isn’t embracing Federalism – they’re carving out specific exceptions that only apply to Trump or Federal policies they don’t like.

      Statism is perfectly satisfactory, right here and now, as long as it furthers Leftist goals. Only suckers think otherwise.

      1. Correct. It is progressives calling for national gun bans, for instance.

        1. Not unlike fair weather conservatives who promote states’ rights when it suits them but then support federal power when it doesn’t.

      2. “Statism is perfectly satisfactory, right here and now, as long as it furthers Leftist goals.”

        How odd that they chose YOU to speak for them.

        1. According to the words and deeds of those that lead the Leftist party, in Congress and in the states, Statism is perfectly satisfactory, right here and now, as long as it furthers Leftist goals.

          I was assuming that rational readers could understand the unspoken context, but I forgot that you also post here.

    3. Pretty much all federalism is fair-weather federalism.

      I mean, you can criticize liberals for taking it up if you want, but I don’t see a lot of conservatives criticizing Trump’s power grabs either.

      1. “I don’t see a lot of conservatives criticizing…”

        Really…? Really….?

        1. Really.

          1. So.never trumpers dont exist… say Jennifer Rubin, national review in general, the authors at Reason, Amash, etc?

            You really do seem to enjoy your ignorance.

            1. Jennifer Rubin? You have to be joking. She is so dismayed by Trump that anything at all associated with his name she is virulently opposed to. It has nothing at all to do with principle.

              1. No one said anything about “principle.” Just about criticism.

            2. A few, maybe, but National Review? Checked Lowry’s attitude lately?

              And as for the idiot Jonah Goldberg, who else could claim to be a never Trumper while admitting that, if he had to personally choose either Trump or Clinton to be President he would choose Trump?

              1. Sigh. It looks like you have selective blinders on.

                Let’s examine. In response to the wall emergency…

                ““No crisis justifies violating the Constitution,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.”
                Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said, “Declaring a national emergency is unnecessary, unwise and inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution.”

                That’s about 3 seconds of Google. If you look, there’s plenty of criticism.

                Simply because the GOP doesn’t instantly support the Democrats (who have their own very severe issues with…executive overreach), it doesn’t mean they don’t have any issues or criticism when Trump does it.

                1. Yeah, that Rubio is well known for his principled anti-Trump stance *snerk*

                  The examples of Republicans being ‘deeply troubled’ by Trump’s latest racist rant or dictatorial policy attempt are legion. The examples of them sticking to it, or acting on it, are basically absent.

                  1. The question was about Conservatives criticizing Trump’s actions. Which there are many examples of, depending on the action.

                    What you actually want is for conservatives to abandon their party and positions entirely because of Trump. Which is different.

                    1. Does pro forma criticism count as criticism? And even that is fading away.

                      The GOP is Trump’s party now, including you. Do you disagree?

                    2. I disagree. Partially.

                      Trump is a moron, and an administrative nightmare. However….

                      What Trump “represents” is a switching of the political positions for the two primary parties. The Democrats have become the party of the rich and the professional class, while the Republicans have become the party of the working and middle class. You think it’s a surprise that Democrats win the “rich” enclaves of Silicon Valley and New York, while the GOP is continually winning the working class Midwest and South?

      2. I’m getting on in years, my memory isn’t what it used to be.

        Refresh me on these power grabs. I’ve noticed him using powers Congress had actually (Stupidly!) granted Presidents, but I’ve forgotten which ones he “grabbed”.

        1. Just recently he tried to grab the power to change the census in violation of statute, but Roberts, with notably great reluctance, stopped him.

          Conservatives, including notably you, generally applauded loudly.

          1. “Roberts” is that the “living constitution” guy that re-wrote the Obama care bill to make it legal?

          2. “This is perfectly fine, you just need to follow the appropriate steps” is slapping down a “power grab”?

          3. Bzzzt.

            Guess you didn’t follow the litigation. The Supreme court didn’t think it violated the law for Trump to have that power. They just didn’t think he’d properly crossed the Ts and dotted the i’s.

            1. Failing to “properly cross the Ts and dot the Is,” as you put it, is in fact a violation of the applicable statute.

          4. What statue? How did he try to change it? By adding a question that had been in the census in one form or another until 2010? When Obama removed it?

        2. Given that Ilya has written extensively on precisely this question, and the op-ed he notes in this post is about this very subject, for you to feign ignorance here is just to reveal how deeply disingenuous you’re being.

          You have enthusiastically endorsed and supported every last thing Trump has ever done. Accordingly, we can’t really expect you to admit that anything he has done in the past couple of years counts as a “power grab” contrary to federalist principles. Despite the fact that his current AG was selected almost because of the AG’s expansive views of unchecked presidential power.

  2. Ilya really needs to differentiate here between domestic issues and non-domestic issues.

    Federalism has a strong role to play in domestic issues. The US is a diverse country, with a variety of environments and peoples. A one size fits all may not fit.

    In non-domestic issues (IE, those that cross international borders) it’s different. Whether it be certain areas of the country that deny tariffs, or others that deny immigration laws, federal enforcement in these issues is really needed

    1. Not really. Our federal system nationally determines naturalization, not immigration. Counter example: can the Congress migration from one state to another? No? Because they don’t have power over migration.

      Now you may argue that they should, or that since they usurped it to explicitly discriminate against unwanted racial groups (Chinese Exclusion Act) that it now rests with the federal government, but that’s not how our constitution was written.

      Then again, most thing the Congress does isn’t within their power anyway, and I realize I’m in a minority on this since most people prefer getting their own rather than having rules of general applicability.

      1. “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person. ”

        It would be strange to direct that a power could not be exercised until a certain date, if it had never been granted in the first place.

        1. The interesting thing about the “migration or importation clause”, is that “as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit” language.

          What does it imply about people those states don’t think it proper to admit?

      2. “Not really. Our federal system nationally determines naturalization, not immigration.”

        To the extent that these are not effectively the same thing, it is useful to recall that the Founders were the original wild-eyed “Open borders” folks.

        1. Yes, at a time when anyone taking advantage of “open borders” was almost certainly white, and at a time when there was no welfare state. It’s a fantasy to think the founders were on board with mass immigration of low IQ non-whites so that they could go on welfare.

        2. Yes, which is why they had the Army keeping out foreigners on the borders, and denying entry to aliens as early as 1790.

          Nice “Open Borders” there.

          1. “Yes, which is why they had the Army keeping out foreigners on the borders”

            Were they treading water? The immigrants were coming from the east, a notoriously damp border.

            The Founders tried to discourage the keeping of a standing army in the first place.

        3. The first national “immigration” law in the US was in 1807, and took place in 1808.

          Think about it.

    2. Which is why there is no real question here of what immigration law applies in any state. It’s clear that federal law controls, and federal agents are primarily responsible for enforcing that law.

      The question is, rather, whether the federal government should have the power to compel state governments to use their own resources to further the federal policy. That seems to me to be a perfectly “domestic” issue – the same way that states can choose whether or not to participate in the ACA’s Medicaid expansion or in regulating pollution to federal standards.

      1. Yes….and no.

        So, it’s long standing doctrine that the Federal Government cannot compel the states to use their own resources to enforce federal law. That is well understood, and no one really disagrees. ICE cannot, for example, order the California State Police to start rounding up illegal immigrants.

        Where it gets more complicated, is when the states use their resources to actively interfere with and discourage the enforcement of federal laws. And that’s closer to where we are today in many areas. For example, California’s SB-54 actively eliminates the ability of local law enforcement to cooperate with ICE, even if local law enforcement wants to.

  3. Whether the trend continues remains to be seen.

    that will depend entirely on the elections. There, someone elect me to the position of the next Nostradamus.

    1. Fools – you seek wisdom from the lumbering elephant
      Or from the jackass
      That and 20 francs
      Will get you a cafe au lait

  4. This is Somin trying to make a principled virtue out of opportunism. Because Somin wants less effective government (less government, he would say), opportunism which discredits government isn’t a bright blip on his radar screen. He isn’t exactly arguing in favor of discrediting government, but if that happens to be a by-product of policies he prefers, it doesn’t much register.

  5. Get off my lawn !! [ Shakes fist at cloud ]

  6. “But in the Trump era, many progressives are rediscovering the merits of federalism.”

    I think a deeper analysis would show that this is not a recent development. As Conservatives have attempted to use federal power to squash liberal-leaning state actions, opposition followed.

    Consider the case of Oregon’s “right-to-die” law. W’s administration fought it by threatening to revoke federal authority to prescribe drugs from any Oregon doctor who followed this law. Or the early days of medical marijuana, which again was fought by W’s administration, with federal raids on dispensaries that were complying with state law.

    Liberals may be REdiscovering an interest in federalism now that Trump and his posse are running the Executive branch, but it’s not like they weren’t familiar with it already.

  7. While both ends of the political spectrum have favored or opposed federalism as it helped or hurt their causes, I think that there’s a fundamental reason why progressives would oppose it.

    Economic redistribution seems to lie at the philosophical core of progressivism. Issues like gun control, abortion, and environmental regulation seem to be secondary, and one can easily imagine a different world in which progressives took different stands on any of them.

    But foot voting is antithetical to such redistribution. People subject to heavy taxation will move to jurisdictions where taxes are lowest; most-vulnerables will move to those where government-provided benefits are highest. Vermont can’t provide free health care and college to all, because the people whom they want to tax to pay for it are all living in Utah.

    1. ” Vermont can’t provide free health care and college to all, because the people whom they want to tax to pay for it are all living in Utah.”

      No they are living in D.C.

    2. Economic redistribution seems to lie at the philosophical core of progressivism.

      There is a way to keep that from being an empty ideological assertion, but you missed it. Taxation is far from the only way to achieve redistribution. There are other methods which progressives could support, and you might even be able to get many capitalists to go along.

      For instance, you might decide to regulate business to broaden long-term economic competition, instead of prioritizing theoretical price efficiencies—with an eye to harnessing market forces to shift the balance of market activity somewhat away from giant enterprises, and somewhat toward far more, smaller enterprises. That would do worlds for redistribution without increasing tax rates.

      Of course unionism is an old—and now comprehensively spurned—method to promote redistribution. You could combine the two methods. Rewrite the labor laws, to somewhat shield smaller enterprises from unionism, while making corporate giants subject to it. That would afford both the economic dynamism of an unhindered small-business economy, and the redistributive benefit to be derived from making more-institutionalized corporate enterprises once again share their wealth with their workforces.

      And you could take that farther. You could address a looming major problem for distribution, namely that automation is already replacing workers who pay social security and medicare taxes with machines which do not—thus shrinking the social welfare budget resource, while increasing the social welfare demand. The solution? You could tax automation installed by larger corporations at a rate to offset the missing worker payments. Then reduce their income taxes by something like 20% of that amount, leaving the big corporations free to pocket a net increase in the bottom line (but not as large as the one they would get by totally dodging social security payments). That would promote redistribution, cut total taxes on large corporations, and add to the intended economic bias in favor of smaller enterprise, all at once.

      1. Indeed!

        I often reflect on how history could have been different if this country hadn’t squandered the last two centuries on these failed free market philosophies. Instead of being mired in grinding poverty today, trailing all the places in the world where wise governments have strongly managed the details of their economy, in that alternative history America could have been a world leading economic powerhouse. What a tragedy!

        And I especially like taxing automation! Why should we be denied our birthright of walking behind a mule by the evil of hyper efficient mechanical combines! Don’t let faceless computer programs do payroll calculations, when rooms of clerks could be hunched over their adding machines. Arise and reclaim your right to bolt on fenders one after another for year after year – don’t let a faceless robot take that away from you!

        1. Absaroka, products of progressive educators are not likely to appreciate irony, but good job!

        2. Absaroka, did it ever cross your mind that if you let businesses have a tax subsidy for automating, you give them motive to replace human workers with machines, even in some cases where the machines are less productive than the humans? Even if that doesn’t happen, once you lose the social welfare contribution which human workers formerly delivered, you can’t have an honest accounting of automation benefits without subtracting that social welfare loss—and also factoring in recognition that the subtraction measures the size of a transfer payment—a payment from workers to others who are better positioned to scoop up the streams of cash which new policy has turned out of accustomed channels.

          That honest accounting is not something I ever expect to see from ideological capitalists—apparently including you.

          By now, I think most Americans have learned that the old economists’ excuses about how everybody benefits in the long run were always based on a dishonest meaning of “everybody.” The more-honest interpretation, based now on plenty of experience, is that more often pro-automation policy proposes to advance general economic welfare by singling out for crushing losses powerless cohorts—who are never expected to do anything except die before recovering. After those are gone, the others left standing become the new default “everybody.” On that basis people of bad faith and short memory then proclaim general benefit and a wise policy.

          1. “if you let businesses have a tax subsidy for automating”

            Speaking of people not being honest, if you can find anywhere that Absaroka suggested giving businesses a tax subsidy for automating, I’ll apologize. Not having to pay taxes on workers you don’t employ is not a tax subsidy any more than not having to pay taxes on income you don’t earn.

            1. If a business fires employees so that it can replace them with less-productive machines, but make up the difference by paying less taxes, so what? I say that is a tax subsidy to fire people. Maybe you call it a tax policy.

              Where we really disagree is, I argue from the point of view that social insurance ought to be a default expectation. You argue that getting rid of social insurance ought to be a default expectation.

              I suggest you probably argue that way not because you have any notion whether getting rid of social insurance would make a better society, or a worse society, but because you and other libertarians would always prefer that government never do anything which works well. Every time that happens, it embarrasses your free market ideology. And you haven’t got anything but empty ideological assertions to explain why you want to make things worse.

              1. You may well prefer a world where the missus spends her days grinding flour by hand instead of using those new fangled labor destroying grist mills, and hubby spends it scything the grain for her to grind instead of those new fangled combines, but I think your vision is going to be a tough political sell. But good luck!

                1. Absaroka, derision is cheap, and your derision is hackneyed.

                  I’m fine with all the new-fangled devices, and I’m fine with progress. But analogizing computer technology to 19th century inventions is not forthright. New circumstances will demand new policies. New technologies create new societies, molded in patterns characteristic of the technologies themselves. Computer technology will not shape society as if computers were grist mills.

                  As a matter of previous public policy, replacement of workers with technology has generally been treated as cost-free, or even beneficial to the replaced workers themselves. That is not true now, if it ever was. And the power of computer technology to expand those replacements beyond previous experience will assure that the continuing policy will not be laissez-faire.

                  There is no future left for the old nostrum, “Do nothing, and presently the new inventions will grow the pie for everyone.” That amounted to a blandishment—asserting that workers should cheerfully bear losses first, and then reap rewards afterwards. Workers who for decades learned the outcomes that blandishment delivered, are increasingly primed to respond with violence to any proposed continuation. “Do nothing,” will shortly be over with.

                  Thus, social insurance to ease the plight of the displaced will of course eat up some notable fraction of any increase to be had from technological advance. Recognizing that will require nothing more than honest accounting, by which costs inflicted on workers are not externalized when it comes time to measure the net outcome of change. The new order will be, fully compensate displaced workers first, and then, if there is general benefit for everyone left over, there will be time afterward to discuss how to distribute it.

                  The only points worth consideration now are what proposals will work best to provide workers with necessities amidst change, and what proposals will meet approval for compensating everyone after change. Do not expect free rein to be left in the hands of capitalists, unless they convincingly swear off the old nonsense about technological advance making everyone better off. Only secure people whom that does not target will buy it this time. The others have learned better.

              2. As suspected, no need to apologize. And where we really disagree is that I prefer to use words according to their generally accepted meanings, and you prefer to twist words. Not paying taxes on people you don’t employ is not a subsidy.

                1. jph12, a policy that a business must pay a tax on labor delivered by a person, but need not pay a like tax on labor delivered by a machine, of course produces results indistinguishable from a tax subsidy in favor of replacing people with machines. That is not a novel idea, by the way.

                  1. Case 1: A carpenter hammers nails using his bare fist. In addition to mangling his fist, this is slow, so he pays many hours of social security taxes per house constructed.
                    Case 2: He buys a hammer (and pays sales tax on it). Now he can drive nails faster and more comfortably, so he spends fewer hours building each house, and so pays fewer SS taxes per house. He doesn’t pay SS taxes on the ‘labor’ the hammer is performing.
                    Case 3: He buys a compressor and nail gun: this is Case 2 on steroids.

                    Your view seems to be that he should pay an ongoing tax on the ‘labor’ the hammer or nailgun is ‘performing’.

                    I need to get out more, I guess, because that’s a pretty novel opinion to me.

                  2. “on labor delivered by a machine”

                    And the redefinitions just keep on keeping on. Machines don’t deliver labor.

                    1. I’m a little baffled by what he’s after. His screeds tend to be long on word count and short on clarity.

                      Early on he was talking about computers, but now machinery in general. In any event, that’s a silly distinction. In the 1930’s or so better cutting tool materials revolutionized machine tools – they became much heavier, stiffer, and higher horsepower. The productivity went up several fold, so you could produce the same number of widgets with fewer machinists – yet no automation was involved. Later CNC also upped productivity, but there’s no particular reason to think productivity improved by CNC is bad while productivity improvemed by fitting a more powerful motor is good; both are just productivity improvements.

    3. Utah is a net tax-payee. I think what you mean is that the Vermonters’ benefits would come out of the paychecks of a few of their neighbors – New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts.

      You think you’re making a point about “progressives,” but in fact you’re making a point about conservatives, as well. No, they might not be as open about embracing “economic redistribution” as progressives, but they certainly benefit politically from it, and federalism helps them to reap that benefit. Politicians from and in “low tax” states can brag about being in favor of limited government, while they fund their hospitals and schools with federal money redistributed from the northeast.

      1. This lie is really getting old. They don’t fund their hospitals and schools with federal money. The disparity is due to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Defense, as military bases are more likely to be in red states.

        1. Not what I hear. I hear that in Arkansas, for folks who don’t get corporate insurance plans, they basically run the whole healthcare system through emergency rooms, and collect federal emergency care subsidies to pay for all of it. Long-since gave up trying to bill for any of it, because sending the bills out was a money loser.

          One way to look at that is that it is freeloading all the way, with a big political payoff built in. Red state politicians can campaign against Obamacare, which would require some of their constituents to pay something, while bringing home totally socialized medicine—however bad the quality—which requires constituents to pay nothing. Given how politically rational that sounds, I would be surprised if it isn’t the rule among quite a few red states, not just Arkansas. That would help explain why those federal subsidies run in the tens of billions annually.

        2. Where’s the “lie,” exactly, in saying that Medicare and Medicaid – which pay for the medical expenses of the poor and the elderly, including a fair amount of end-of-life care – fund red-state hospitals?

          And I’m not sure if you’re saying that military bases are placed where they are because they serve military necessity in those locations or if you’re just tacitly admitting to that form of red-state subsidy, as well.

          1. “And I’m not sure if you’re saying that military bases are placed where they are because they serve military necessity in those locations or if you’re just tacitly admitting to that form of red-state subsidy, as well.”

            Right. I remember the battles over siting ICBM silos. Minot, Cheyenne, and Great Falls narrowly won the battle, with Chicago and Minneapolis terribly disappointed they didn’t get all that sweet Ground Zero pork.

            And there are all those fat federal payrolls, too – why does Yellowstone have to be in Red State Wyoming instead of New Jersey, and why does Idaho have more Forest Service employees than Delaware, after all. It just shows how the electoral college corrupts everything.

            And don’t get me started on all that highway money. It’s not like those 18 wheelers on the interstate in Montana or Nebraska benefit anyone but local residents.

            To be serious about it, the posturing on this is silly for both sides. If someone spends a career working for the feds in D.C., then moves to a rural area to get away from the traffic, who was subsidized? D.C. because the salary went there all those years, the rural area because they are getting the pension, or neither? The Navy puts most of its port facilities right on the coast for some reason. Pilot training is done in areas with few clouds. Park Service and Forest Service people are put where the parks and forest are (and if you want to complain that that is a subsidy to the West, n.b. that at least some people in those western states would love to take over the burden of owning that land). Medicare transfers money from the young to the old, without regard to where they live, etc, etc. Parsing all that out is a yuuuuuge job, and the total tax receipts vs total expenditure analysis is facile at best.

            1. So I guess your point is – sure, there’s lots of redistribution, but it’s all for good reasons?

              1. What’s your definition of redistribution?

                Actual example:
                1)In 1941 my father left his home in Illinois and spent the next 5 years bouncing around the Atlantic and Mediterranean on a destroyer. During that time, was his salary being redistributed to Illinois? To the Atlantic/Mediterranean? Was him getting paid a national charitable contribution to Illinois?
                2)After WWII he joined the Army and roughly speaking spent:
                1946-1950 in Japan
                1950-1953 in Korea
                1953-1957 in South Carolina
                1957-1961 in Germany
                1961-1965 in Virginia
                I think he was nominally a resident of Illinois for all but the last couple of years there. For each of those periods, was his salary a redistribution, and to whom?
                He then retired and drew his army pension in Virginia. Is that a redistribution to Virginia? If residents of some states enlist in larger numbers to fight the country’s wars around the world, is it proper to look at military pay and say ‘the rest of the country is subsidizing those states with outsize enlistment rates’? One could equally argue the subsidy is running the other way, after all.

                Does Yucca Flats represent a redistribution to Nevada? Nevada, after all, wants nothing to do with Yucca Flats, and would gladly resite it to, say Long Island. That makes it a bit odd for Long Island to complain it is subsidizing Nevada by spending money at Yucca Flats.

                How about Hanford? Washington state didn’t ask for plutonium waste to be spread around there – the rest of the country imposed that on Washington, to the benefit of the whole country. Are the funds being spent on Hanford cleanup a redistribution in favor of Washington? We’d surely be willing to ship the plutonium waste to wherever you live and let you enjoy the economic windfall of the cleanup – and then, I guess, we could complain that the cost of the cleanup was a subsidy to you?

                So to repeat the point: you can’t just look at federal tax receipts/federal expenditures and say X is subsidizing Y. That simple an accounting is useless.

                1. Nicely put. Not to mention that nearly all federal money is spend on individuals, not “states,” and “blue” voters disproportionately are the recipients.

                  1. ‘“blue” voters disproportionately are the recipients.’

                    Have you got a source for that? The single biggest line item is social security, for example, and I wouldn’t expect SS recipients to be disproportionately blue, for example.

                    1. SS recipients aren’t disproportionately blue, but bear in mind that SS in general is skewed toward the poor, such that someone who makes $40k receives far more than 1/3 of the benefits someone who makes $120k. Also, it’s common for people to retire from blue states to red states, so the money they paid in and the money they draw out are credited to different states.

                    2. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/09/the-47-who-they-are-where-they-live-how-they-vote-and-why-they-matter/262506/

                      Here is one.

                      “The first reason is that low income earners are much more likely to vote Democratic, even within Republican states. In 2008, Obama lost Georgia by 5 percentage points but he won 70% of voters who earned less than $30,000 — which is precisely the demo most likely to owe no federal income tax. Obama lost Mississippi by 14 percentage points, but picked up 66% of voters who earned less than $30,000. As a general rule, Republicans win among richer voters — both in the red states and the blue. [Graph below via Super-Economy]”

            2. It’s not like those 18 wheelers on the interstate in Montana or Nebraska benefit anyone but local residents.

              Compared to trans-shipments from Seattle to Chicago? Did you ever take a look at what the big trucks are hauling out in the middle of farm and ranch country? Livestock, hay, potatoes, sugar beets, soy beans, fertilizer, saw logs, farm equipment, stock for the local grocery stores, refrigerated produce, and new pickup trucks. At least in the two states you name, that 18-wheeler traffic is disproportionately from in-state origins, or shipping to in-state destinations. A lot of it will be entirely intrastate, in support of farm-to-food-processor business, farm-to-export business (with out-of-state trans-shipment from rail depots), and farm-to-farm business.

              And those are lightly used interstates. Compared to local populations, they probably* have some of the highest per-capita construction and maintenance costs in the interstate system. Consider: Massachusetts, population 6.9 million; interstate miles, 566. Montana, population 1.06 million; interstate miles, 1,191. Contributors per mile: Massachusetts, 12,191 people-per-mile; Montana, 890 people-per-mile. It’s about a 14-1 ratio.

              Taking all that together, that makes the Montana interstate system look a lot like a farm/ranch subsidy paid for by Massachusetts.

              If you want to argue that it’s still all one economy—and the densely settled parts need what only the thinly-settled hinterlands can provide—and so this blue-states-subsidize-red-states stuff is tendentious—I’m all in on that. But if you want to focus on the master-spring driving the tendentiousness? Look to the red states, and to out-of-control anti-majoritarian politics.

              *We do have to stay mindful of how massively everyone gets ripped off paying for interstate miles in Massachusetts. That would cut the overall ratio down a bit.

              1. No, the vast majority is not intrastate. How do you think goods are getting from your beloved blue coasts? Do you think the wine arrogant New Yorkers drink from California is just materializing there? That it doesn’t travel through sparsely populated portions of I-80?

              2. “At least in the two states you name, that 18-wheeler traffic is disproportionately from in-state origins,…”

                I’d have to see a source for that. I’ve driven through those states a number of times, and that is not my sense of things at all. I’ve driven all the way through Nebraska many times in the company of the same gaggle of trucks who drove straight through.

                “And those are lightly used interstates.”

                Ummm, when’s the last time you drove through Nebraska? For me it was six months ago, and it was anything but lightly used. I wonder if you are comparing the use you saw when you lived out west in the 70’s with the traffic you see in MA today…if so your data is rather stale.

                I remember when those midwest interstates were seemingly empty. That was a long time ago.

                1. I drove through Nebraska 2 summers ago. Compared to what I saw in MA in 2017 (and now, and 20 years ago), Interstate 80 in Nebraska two summers ago was extremely lightly used. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with Interstate 93 in Massachusetts, or the Mass Pike.

                  In 2018, I entertained guests from the DC area, which is no slouch for traffic congestion. We planned a trip north through the Boston area, and on into northern New England. I explained that to avoid stop-and-go driving we ought to get up early. They proposed 6 a.m. I laughed, and mentioned 4 a.m. Surely not necessary, they suggested. We compromised on 5 a.m., and I picked them up 10 minutes ahead of schedule. They were dumbfounded on I 93, when we came to our utterly predictable stop, 10-miles south of Boston, at 5:10 in the morning.

                  By the way, that light use in Nebraska was equally true of interstates I saw in Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho—all so lightly used they mostly looked like cover illustrations for an old-fashioned road atlas. The worst of it was several side-trips on Interstate 15, through the Salt Lake City area at rush hour, to get to the airport. There, I encountered slow-downs—sort of like I 93 near Boston, at 3 in the morning.

                  1. I drove through Nebraska, end-to-end, last week, part of a coast-to-coast trip.

                    They do this thing where they close half of the Interstate, then put two-way traffic, one lane each, on the other half. That tends to bottleneck things up. They’re not alone in this, I ran into this approach to road maintenance in several states on several interstates.

              3. Just to help a little with the research, google “VEHICLE VOLUME DISTRIBUTIONS BY CLASSIFICATION mark hallenbeck” and read a couple pages starting at ‘Geographic Differences’ near the bottom of page 12. They observe “through-traffic predominates over local traffic.”, and that you can time traffic volumes in Nebraska by when trucks left the coasts.

                1. Pshaw. Stephen Lathrop “drove through Nebraska 2 summers ago.” Your fancy internet can’t compete with first-hand experience like that.

                  1. Well, jph12, it didn’t compare in this case. Absaroka was complaining that my observations might be out of date. The study he cited, internet access or not, was dated 1997. Had you read it, you would also know it doesn’t really refute anything I said, and wouldn’t have 20 years before, either.

                    By the way, how hard do you think it is to tell whether you are driving on a busy road, or not?

                    More generally, need a field mark to identify low-grade internet commentary? Look for the guy who doesn’t like a comment. It isn’t a comment that depends on systematic measurement, but this guy objects anyway, saying, “I need to see a study for that.”

                    Whenever you get a cheap argument which can be used everywhere, it’s a safe bet that the guy doing the arguing either isn’t doing his best. Or his best isn’t very good.

                    1. Oh, so the majority of Nebraska interstate traffic was interstate in 1997, but since then everything has totes changed, and it’s mostly intrastate now? Got it.

                      “By the way, how hard do you think it is to tell whether you are driving on a busy road, or not?”

                      Not very. Which, since I drove it a few months ago, and a year earlier, and …, and it has been usually busy, made me wonder about your observations. Maybe your trip was on one of the lulls generated by the weekend pauses in dispatching the heavy coast to coast traffic 🙂

                    2. “Absaroka was complaining that my observations might be out of date.”

                      Not in the post I was responding to. You would think that someone who types as much as you do would have better reading comprehension. I guess it’s just like the empty can rattling the most though.

                      “By the way, how hard do you think it is to tell whether you are driving on a busy road, or not?”

                      Not very. But that’s not all that you pretended to do, and that’s not what Absaroka’s study, the post I was responding to, or my post, was about. See, this is what you claimed:

                      “Did you ever take a look at what the big trucks are hauling out in the middle of farm and ranch country? Livestock, hay, potatoes, sugar beets, soy beans, fertilizer, saw logs, farm equipment, stock for the local grocery stores, refrigerated produce, and new pickup trucks. At least in the two states you name, that 18-wheeler traffic is disproportionately from in-state origins, or shipping to in-state destinations.”

                      That has nothing to do with how busy the roads are.

                      “More generally, need a field mark to identify low-grade internet commentary?”

                      Stephen Lathrop at the top is a pretty good sign. I mean, anyone who pretends to be able to know where an 18-wheeler is delivering it load of pickup trucks just by passing it on the freeway, expects everyone else to just buy his bullshit, and gets whiny when called on it sets the expectations rather low.

    4. “Economic redistribution seems to lie at the philosophical core of progressivism.”

      Nah. It’s an overarching dedication to fairness. A earned a big pile of money while B earned only a small pile of money and C is bankrupt? That’s partly due to differences between A, B, and C, but also due to competitive differences. A inherited $20 million when he was 20, B studied hard in school and got a good middle-class job, and C was discriminated against his whole life. Therefore we need to limit the ability of people to inherit huge fortunes and help people who suffer unfair discrimination.

      1. 99% of poor people are poor because they’re lazy and/or stupid. Stop the BS.

        1. You’re lazy and stupid. How poor are you?

  8. The pendulums of legal thought and political thought swing both ways and always did.

  9. Lefties like Federalism because Orange Man Bad, and that’s about it.

    1. Which makes it odd that they were talking up federalism while W man was bad, and Orange Man was a “reality” TV show host.

  10. Consistent divide on the scope of federal power is not between liberals and conservatives, but between white males and everyone else, for obvious historical reasons.

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