A public policy professor of mine would always feign confusion
whenever a student complained about "government" doing this or do that, and he
would ask, "which government?"
He's right--we toil under several layers of government in
our federalist system and it's ambiguous simply refer to a "government." There's
the feds, there's the state, there's county and municipal government. We find
governments wherever we find a formalized system of authority over the actions
of members of the system.
Moving across the spectrum from big and distant federal
government to nearby local government, we begin to see even smaller forms government
that my professor probably didn't even mean to include. Neighborhood councils, organized
community groups, and homeowners associations are some examples of tiny
Going even more "local" takes us to the original unit of
government--the family. It may seem like an informal arrangement instead of a
form of government, but the parents have legal authority over the children, and
husband and wife can have legal claims against each other.
At the final step in the direction of local government we
find self-government, the ultimate local authority. Like the family, we never
think of self-governance as a "government" per se, but we're also formalized
legal entities with control over someone's action (ours).
On the opposite end of the spectrum we mentioned federal
government, but it gets even bigger than that. There are international systems
of governance as well.
Ideologically speaking, we tend to find liberals in favor of
shifting power to the larger, more distant governments while conservatives prefer
smaller, more local government.
The liberals have been winning for most of the country's
history. Power has shifted away from the individual, away from the family, away
from local government, and even away from states and is dangerously concentrated
at the federal level. There are even progressives--particularly in the current
administration--that want the trend to continue into the realm of international government.
Individuals are entrusted with less power over their bodies, families lose
parental rights to the state, states lose their sovereignty to the feds. There
are only a few brief examples where this trend was reversed--the Coolidge
Administration and the Reagan Administration come to mind. Of course, the essence
of the Tea Party is to shift power back in the direction of local government,
but even small-government candidates lose their footing. Rick Perry, for
example, is known for fighting to shift power from the feds to the states via
the 10th Amendment, but wasn't it he who used state powers to decide
to vaccinate children instead of their parents?
In America, we want our various governments at all levels to
represent us. And it's not just something we want on a lark, that idea is the
core of our political system. At least it was supposed to be. After all, wasn't
"taxation without representation" our primary reason for breaking with England?
If representation in government is all important, it is
necessary to ask which layers of government are more representative than others
for those layers would be the best places to invest power.
The 17th Amendment allows for the direct election
of senators. That's widely seen as a coup for the people, a real democratic way
of representing the will of the voter.
Let's say the question of implementing a new law is put
before the Senate. The Senate consists of 100 senators, two from every state. That means that in every matter put before the
Senate that affects your life, 98 senators are not from your state and do not
have an interest in your state. How's that for voter representation?
If we put the same matter before the House of Representatives,
your odds get a little better. There are 435 House members, and 53 of them come
from California, making the Golden State the best-represented state in the
country. However, even then, in every vote 382 Congressman care little for the
interests of Californians, and 432 of the 435 don't care much about Ventura
County. If you're in Moorpark, then 434 of the 435 don't have your best
interests at heart, yet--due to the shift in power to the federal government--they
have enormous control over your lives.
Your odds improve slightly at the state level, where there
are 80 Assemblyman and 40 State Senators. That means 120 Californians are
voting on issues affecting Californians which is much better than what we have
in Washington, where 98 Senators and 385 Congressmen who don't live in
California are voting on issues affecting California.
At the County Supervisor level, there are five supervisors
from Ventura County voting on Ventura County issues who are voted into office
by Ventura County voters. Ventura County residents, obviously, are very well
represented in the Board of Supervisors, and it would be tough for us to
complain that they don't know or care much about Ventura County. However, the
federal government is constantly creating laws that affect Ventura County even
though we send only one lonely Congressman to Washington--one out of 535 total
politicians that knows about and cares about our little corner in the world.
Yet every day, politicians from New York, Kansas, Florida and Illinois make
decisions on our behalf.
It's easily demonstrated, then, that the smaller and closer
government gets, the more representative it becomes. Only one of the five
Ventura County Supervisors may represent your city, but 100% of the members of
your City Council do. There isn't anyone in Congress from Moorpark, but
everyone on the Moorpark City Council lives there. Wouldn't you rather have them making
decisions for your city than people who have never been to Moorpark? And if a
city councilman does something you don't like, you might be able to reach him
by phone, or even see him at the grocery store. Good luck trying to get a hold
of Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi (or John Boehner). If the city councilman is
non-responsive, you can vote for his opponent in the next election, organize a grassroots
campaign against him, or run for his seat with only a modest budget.
Nancy Pelosi has a big impact on my life, but I can't vote against
her (nor John Boehner). I can't vote against Harry Reid, but he makes decisions
that affect me whether I like it or not.
How much poorer would representation be if power was shifted
from the feds to international bodies as some would have? I have zero chance to
reach them by phone, but by some miracle if I did, I don't know if we would
even speak the same language they would be so far removed from me.
In business there is a best practice that decisions should
be made at the lowest level where all the information necessary to make the
decision is available. In other words, a CEO in one office branch should not be
telling receptionists in other branches when to take their lunch breaks. That should
be left up to her supervisor who is familiar with call trends, schedules, and
who called in sick that day--information the CEO is not likely to have, or care
The same principle is true for layers of government. If representation
is really what we cared about, we wouldn't allow the federal government to
interfere directly in the lives of its citizens--that's for local government to
do (or not to do, if they wish)--since that layer has a minimum of
representation and a maximum of control. That's precisely why progressives
prefer to regulate via Congress (or for even less representation, via executive
order or the courts)--it offers ultimate control with a minimum of interference
from the rabble.