Local control of local issues

Centralized government leads to less customer satisfaction and sometimes it leads to tyranny, as with Vladimir Putin
Local control

Centralized government likes to collect power in a centralized point, as Washington DC and Des Moines demonstrate every day. For good reasons, explained by many thoughtful economists and political scientists, libertarians prefer decentralization.

The recent Covid experience is a case in point. Washington wanted to take full control, and repeatedly demonstrated the deficiencies of that approach. Iowa is neither California nor New York, but Washington couldn’t resist telling us every rule should be applied to everyone in the country. As we learned, Washington does not even have the authority, either from our Constitution or from the myriad laws passed since 1788, to do some of the things it wanted to do.

Governors had 50 different ideas. Some were probably good ideas, some were obviously bad ideas, but we were 50 laboratories of experimentation. Common sense and basic arithmetic tells us 50 people working independently on a problem will come up 98% of the time with better solutions than if only 1 person is working on it. It’s called competition, and over the course of time the best ideas will rise to the top and be copied, the bad ideas will disappear.

The same principle applies within Iowa. The solution for my city, Cedar Rapids, is unlikely to be the best solution for my birth town, Postville, or my hometown of Maquoketa.

The idea a legislature in Des Moines will always know what is best for every town and county in Iowa is simply not a credible claim. People who live in Council Bluffs might have a preference for muffins, while people in Dubuque prefer bagels. People in Pella might prefer quiet Sundays, but people in Iowa City might not.

This is why a decentralized approach produces better results. People can make decisions in small groups (towns, cities, counties), and will be happier with them, even if the decisions they reach differ from group to group.

Additionally, people are always physically closer to their local officials than to their state representatives. You might not know your mayor personally, but you only have to drive across town to tell him what’s on your mind. It’s a lot easier than driving to Des Moines, and there’s a much better chance you will actually meet your mayor in person and give her a piece of jawboning.

With very few exceptions the Iowa legislature should not be making laws that apply to everyone in the state, unless it is mandated by the Iowa Constitution. This would include mask mandates, and non-mandate mandates (as in school boards cannot have mask mandates). In my reading of the Iowa Constitution the only thing the state is required to do is provide a court system, a militia, and public education. Everything else should be left to counties and towns.

As clunky as it is, the Iowa Constitution is a very libertarian document and reflects the thoughts of founders who wanted as little government as possible, and as much personal freedom as possible.

Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain

This is best provided by a state that allows local control of local issues.

3 Responses

  1. With Roe V. Wade being overturned Republicans are touting this as an opportunity for voters to decide for their state.

    Here you’ve talked about how municipalities should have more power in certain areas. If elected will you ensure that women have access to abortions regardless of the circumstances or leave it to the municipalities?

    On a different topic. Within the last few years Gov. Reynolds intervened in cities increasing their minimum wages beyond the state’s. What is your stance on a minimum wage and who should set it?

    1. Abortions are such a controversial topic I would not allow individual states to either ban or permit them, having no faith in political solutions to the question. Working down the ladder, I would also not give that power to counties (or cities within counties) of more than 100,000 population. Below that level I would allow voters to ban or permit abortions within the county or city limits if they so chose.

      Yes this is an arbitrary number. I didn’t do any scientific research. No it will not make everyone happy. But it does make it possible for anyone who wishes to live in an abortion free zone to find one fairly easily. Is moving perfectly frictionless? No, it is not. But it is at least within the realm of possibility for someone who is passionate about living in an abortion free zone.

      Obviously I’m looking for an acceptable compromise that will make the smallest number of people completely unhappy. Does anyone have any better ideas?

    2. Regarding minimum wages there is no economic theory I am aware of claiming they are a good idea, so let’s get rid of them and concentrate instead on allowing the chaotic forces of the free market to create jobs that make the least capable among us wealthy enough to enjoy the basics of life.

      If we discover the free market is incapable of this, which seems highly unlikely given the historical record, my follow up suggestion is a Universal Basic Income. The best UBI discussion I am aware of is in Charles Murray’s book ‘In Our Hands : A Plan To Replace The Welfare State’, which I strongly recommend.

      Bonus: Murray is a native Iowan and, as you might imagine, a libertarian.

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