A New Federalism

Let’s Agree to Disagree

J.P. Melkus
5 min readFeb 22, 2020


Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash

We can all agree that Abraham Lincoln was wrong about everything. If so (and it is certainly not) then he was wrong in positing that a house divided against itself cannot stand; thus, a house divided against itself at least might stand. In that case, and assuming you — we — want the house, our country, to stand, i.e., continue to exist as a single polity, it is then likely, or at least possibly, better to divide the house than to let its occupants burn it down and murder each other. Based on this unassailable logic, I propose a new federalism, which I call a New Federalism, by which this country might survive past its current disarray and nigh dissolution. This New Federalism is one by which the well understood “Red” and “Blue” states can, to a degree far greater than now, craft their own economic policy with respect to citizens’ respective financial and bodily security, known generally as “welfare,” “socialism,” and/or “things every country on Earth besides the United States does.”

This is already the case today to some degree: the states administer Medicaid and can decide qualifications to a large degree; states dabble in unemployment insurance a bit; and they can dicker with and get waivers for all manner of federal programs to one extent or another, (save for the grand-daddy of them all, Social Security).

But it’s not enough. I say, if Massachusetts and Oregon want to recreate Denmark on North American shores as if they were the reincarnations of Leif Erikson, then they can and should go proverbially nuts. On the other hand, if Wyoming and Alabama want to revert to a state of nature where penurious widows are fed to the village cats, the unemployed are burned for fuel, and disputes are settled by shamans and village leaders determined by stone-throwing competitions, then they can have at it.

Even under the most revanchist of modern reactionary jurisprudence, the states have the power to do this — unburdened as they are by the Constitution Art. I, Sec. IX, Cl. IV’s pesky limits on federal taxation and D.C.’s lack of police power as exemplified by Amdt. X, to same, supra. So they, the states, are free to tax and boss their citizens around mostly as they see fit and there’s nothing that the Kavanaugh cabal can do about it.

So, unlike most other things these days, it’s, New Federalsim, that is, is possible. And it just might save this country.

Americans still actually agree on a lot of social and economic welfare policy until they know who is asking them about it and why. Yet anyone who has ever been on Facebook can tell you that the divide has never been greater between: a) those who believe “socialism is theft” and any government with powers greater than those reserved to Colonial Virginia’s House of Burgesses is the direct equivalent of the Soviet Politburo; and b) those who think that roving death squads and concertina-wire circumferated concentration camps surrounded by mass-gravey pine forests are not the necessary immediate result of the U.S joining the 194 of 195 countries in the world that have some form of universal health insurance and don’t charge their young people $150,000 to drink beer for four years so they can get a better job.

Given this masterminded, orchestrated, and suspiciously-beneficial-to-billionaires state-of-affairs, and given the fact that we are standing on the precipice of a disastrous, unnecessary, and farcical civil war, I simply propose by the New Federalism that the U.S. move social insurance and welfare policy to the state level — let them do what they want for ten years, say, and then let’s all vote on this shit again.

Federal taxes would be reduced commensurately by a direct refund off individuals’ current taxes in proportion to what the federal government spends on this stuff (so we could all see how little this stuff actually costs them) and the experiment would begin. Oh, and for argument’s sake, Social Security remains off limits. But everything else? Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, Pell Grants, whatever, it’s all fair game.

Think of it! Universal single payer health care in Colorado, gender-neutral paid parental leave in New Jersey, day care for days in California, “free college” in Vermont, state jobs planting trees and shit in Oregon, shiftless Teamsters run wild in Illinois! Debtors’ prisons in Tennessee, criminalization of joblessness in South Carolina, poor tax in South Dakota, life turned into a real-life recreation of Monopoly© in Arkansas! The possibilities are endless.

There’s no reason America’s welfare-state has to operate on a one-size-fits-all model for 325 million people. All over the world, countries operate such systems in a cost-efficient manner for 80 million citizens (Germany), or even 37 million (Canada), 10 million (Sweden), or 5 million (Norway)! So we don’t need the whole country on the same system for it to work in terms of scale.

How would it work? you ask. How wouldn’t it work? I respond.

Let’s say you live in New York state and they have adopted a taxpayer funded universal, single-payer health insurance system along the lines of… almost everywhere else on Earth. And your child has diabetes. Well, you pay a good chunk of taxes and your kid can get insulin and your taxes stay where they are. But you don’t pay $800 a month in private health insurance premiums much of which goes to executive and management compensation and overhead for claims analysis and denial. Pretty great, right? Your kid gets to stay alive and you don’t go bankrupt.

But let’s say you get transferred to Kentucky, which in the New Federalism has a totally free market health insurance system. What happens then? Well, if you move to Kentucky, your child can’t get insurance because of his or her pre-existing condition and so he or she dies in a diabetic coma. Or, you could move and leave your kid behind in Rochester with your mistress.

Or, what would happen if you lived in Minnesota and paid into their generous universal old-age pension system for twenty years, but then were offered a better paying job in Georgia where every retiree is encouraged to walk into the ocean once they run out of money? What do you do then? Well, you engage in a hopelessly complex mathematical calculation of the value of the benefits you would leave behind in Minnesota as compared to the increased salary and marginally lower taxes in Georgia and… OK, this is getting a little…

What about companies? How do they handle this? Easy, they maintain 50 different wage and salary withholding systems.

How would this affect our national economy which relies on the free movement of labor? Um… probably really negatively!

You know, actually, this is totally unworkable unless you break up the country, which would leave us all immeasurably poorer and more miserable.

So go ahead with the civil war I guess. We’re screwed. Sorry, this essay seemed in my head like it would have a better ending.



J.P. Melkus

It's been a real leisure. [That picture is not me.--ed.]