Tuesday, June 19, 2018

One Nation Under Localism

http://www.citylab.com; June 7, 2018


Hello Everyone:

The horror of parents and children being separated at the southwest border of the United States.  To date, nearly 2,000 children have been taken from their parents.  A secret audio recording was made, by ProPublica, of the heart rendering cries of children as they were taken from their parents.  You cannot listen to it without being deeply moved. The bottom line, it does not matter who you vote for or what your ideology is, this is moral and humanity issue.  We will leave it at that and move on.

The United States is one nation under what?  Really, the United States is one nation, yet different everywhere you go.  The one thing that binds the many is the preminium placed on localism. Stephen Goldsmith describes his experience as a civic official in his CityLab article "One Nation, United Yet Different: Valuing Localism*," "For the last 25 years I have either been a local official--... --or worked at Harvard Kennedy School with local officials.  These officials tend to be pragmatists looking for ways to build consensus and solve real day-to-day problems."  True enough but more and more, civic officials are finding themselves doing battle with other levels government as polarization materializes into efforts from politicians to impose their way of thinking on as many people as possible.

*Chris Bousquet, a research assistant and writer at the Kennedy School contributed to this article.

Right now, at the state level, Republican lawmakers have and continue to pass pre-emptive measures on more progressive cities on such issues like higher minimum wage and gun control.  Mr. Goldsmith writes, "Historically, the federal government has also attempted to impose controversial liberal policies like an individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act and a variety of requirements in federal funding programs prescribing wages that far exceed local norms and financial capacity."

These federal efforts "undermine the local differences that are critical to democratic success."  Prescriptive policies curtail a municipal government's ability to "connect with their particular residents and reflect preferences."  Breaking from the anti-democratic concept "that the winner should exert power and influence on as many of the vanquished as possible, a better approach, more conducive to pragmatic problem solving and respectful of difference, would be for higher levels of government to differ to elected officials closer to the people they serve."

Localism allows cities to make use full of their competitive advantage, needs, and politics.  Take the hot button issue of gun regulation.  Duke law professor Joseph Blocher argues, "enacting different gun laws in different jurisdictions is a sensible solution to seemingly irresolvable differences among communities (vox.com: Mar. 24, 2018; date accessed June 19, 2018)."  About 60 percent of gun violence occurs in large cities--50 of the largest cities to be precise (citylab.com; Dec. 14, 2012; date accessed June 19, 2018).  No surprise, they tend to support stricter gun regulations.  You contrast this with rural communities, who greatly benefit from guns in the form of hunting and recreation.

Cities are in a particularly good place to understand and mirror the perspectives of their residents.  CIty councils are part of their communities who are affected by their intiatives, residents and advocacy 
groups often attend meetings, and are able to publicly comment on pending policy.  Local citizens and advocacy groups also weigh in via crowdsourcing forum, GIS maps, and a variety technical tools courtesy of municipal governments.  Happily, engagement efforts have improved in terms of outreach and inclusivity, public input is increasing representive of the diverse perspectives that dwell in cities.

Stephen Goldsmith sums up, "It therefore seems perfectly natural that different jurisdictions should represent the different opinions of their constituencies, creating, for example, stricter gun regulations in cities than in rural communities."  Staying with gun regulations: Based on Mr. Goldsmith's thinking, cities can experiment with iniatives to curb gun violence and rural communities can continue to enjoy a highly valued part of culture.  This provides greater freedom to improve the results for local residents and takes into account the broader perspectives, encourage CIVIL debate, a more woke democracy, and political TOLERANCE.

Another advantage to localism is that when municpal governments have the power to enact specific policies, they can compete to attract residents by offering better services.  Economists John Hatfield and Katrins Kosec authored the study Federal competition and economic growth (econpapers.repec.org; 2013; date accessed June 19, 2018) which concluded "that metropolitan areas with more distinct counties--and therefore more competition among locals governments--have higher wages, higher wage growth, and better educational outcomes than area with fewer counties." The co-authors suggest "that these better outcomes reflect the need for counties in more competitive areas to enact policies that will encourage residents to stay."

More specific policy at the local level provides incentives for better services and produces a more efficient government.  Mr. Goldsmith writes, "While policy wonks have long hailed consolidation of local governments as a creator of efficiency, a paper [aei.org; Feb. 2018; date accessed June 18, 2018] by economists Howard Husock and Wendell Cox shows that in fac, consolidation often increases total local expenditures."  This may not be the case in every situation, Mr. Goldsmith observes, "I've been involved in consolidations that produce value and those that don't--the ability to focus on areas with comparative advantages can make localism more efficient than consolidated efforts that force localities to operate outside their strengths."

Localism sounds like an ideal approach to dealing with the big issues affecting cities but the biggest problem with it is coordination.  Returning to gun control, " how do you keep people from going out to suburbs with lax regulations to buy a gun, then coming into the city to shoot somebody?"

Staying with gun control, research, Firearm Localism, in Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh (yalelawjournal.org; Oct. 2013; date accessed June 19, 2018) demonstrated that urban gun regulations can greatly reduce gun-related death, even when surrounding communities maintain more lax laws.  However, in other policy issues, coordination problems may be more severe as to render local legislation impossible.  One example cited by John Hatfield and Katrins Kosec is "cities would be unlikely to enact legislation to curb pollution when competing with surrounding localities."  Municipalities enjoy the benefits derived from jobs and tax revenues when a polluting facility moves in, pay little in penalties, since most of the pollution is exported to neighboring communities.  Thus, if a city were to pass environmental regulations, businesses are more likely to set up shop in a community with more lax regulations.

Stephen Goldsmith declares, "It is in these that a state or national body must intervene."  Cities must use heir own experiences, in addition to research like that of Mr. Hatfield and Ms, Kosec, to determine he areas where they can create the circumstances for a positive outcome and where higher levels of government can intervene.

Another caveat to localism is that certain rights and services are so fundamental that the federal government must ensure that they are respected. Due process, guaranteed under the 14th Amendment, must be protected.  Also, the federal government must ensure that no city enacts any discriminatory practices like demanding proof of citizenship at random police stops.

Bottom line is, depending on what side of the aisle you ask, you will never get a consensus on what constitutes basic rights or necessary control of negative impact.  While progressives may argue in favor of universal healthcare and a handgun ban are on the same level non-discrimination laws, conservative may have a differing point of view.  This kind of debate is necessary for a healthy democratic process, but must be built on the foundation of localism, allowing governments to make more place specific decisions thus ensuring resident benefits and political CIVILITY.