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Killing it like a hooker in Hong Kong

The US needs to become a nation

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and one thing that has become clear in the past decade is that the US needs to centralize some of the functions that are currently administered by the states.

The op-ed in the NYT about national standards for education has some of this flavor:

Each of these seemingly unrelated developments is part of a crazy quilt created by one of America’s most cherished and unexamined traditions: local and state control of public education…

Our lack of a national curriculum, national teacher training standards and federal financial support to attract smart young people to the teaching profession all contribute mightily to the mediocre-to-poor performance of American students, year in and year out, on international education assessments. So does a financing system that relies heavily on local property taxes and fails to guarantee students in, say, Kansas City the same level of schooling as students in more affluent communities.

In an era with more technology, it is possible to standardize and administer larger areas from the center.It might have been impossible for a administrator in Washington to oversee a school district in Texas when a stagecoach journey would take two weeks, but with telephones and flights, and especially modern CRM and ERP systems, it is possible.

Furthermore, standardization matters more now, because that same student from Texas is ever more likely to find himself working in Washington rather than Texas. So sharing the standard body of knowledge allows for less frictional unemployment and deadweight losses.

The same argument can be applied to most licensing programs. It is ludicrous that the US has medical licensing on a state basis. It is basically entrenched local doctors protecting their interests from outsiders.

The only area it may make sense is in the legal profession, where state laws differ to a great degree and are based on the community’s normative standards of decency.

Insurance, banking and many other areas are rife for centralization. The only fear is that is that currently states have acted as a check and balance. For eg, the Justice Department is controlled by the administration, and if in a Republican administration, Justice refuses to take action against say the insurance industry, then Democratic controlled New York’s attorney general can take action instead. This is precisely what happened in the Eliott Spitzer-George Bush years.

So how do can you have centralization and yet have the same check and balance? It’s a real conundrum. Perhaps what you could is have the power to appoint and fund a shadow bureaucracy. I.e if you have a Republican president, then the Democrats can appoint and fund an alternative Justice Department, with the same access to information and power to sue, but not the power to administer or rule making ability. Ie prevent selective enforcement by allowing both parties the right to enforce.

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March 22, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Or you just make data much more widely available and let the class action suits roll…. that or have some roving regulator like the Australian Productivity Commission staffed with a bunch of pointy-elbowed industrial organization economists and ensure whistleblowers get paid.

    I’d have to agree though, lots of democracies are looking increasingly ungovernable.

    Comment by Nemo Incognito | March 26, 2010


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