In March, I gave a talk on “How Federalism Promotes Unity Through Diversity” at a panel that was part of the Federalist Society National Student Symposium. The Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy asked me to convert the text into a short written article, which I was happy to do. It is now available for free download on SSRN. It will be published sometime in the next few weeks. Here is the abstract:
Does federalism promote unity? In one obvious sense, the answer is surely “no.” Federalism necessarily reduces unity because it leads to divergence on at least some policy areas. If there were no significant policy differences between the various state and local governments, then there would be little point in having federalism in the first place.
But the diversity federalism creates can also help promote unity, by reducing the conflict that arises when the federal government has the power to impose one-size-fits-all policies throughout the country. Decentralizing authority can mitigate that conflict. It can also empower people to make better choices by “voting with their feet.” As a result, more people can live under policies that they prefer, and the choices they make are likely to be better-informed. There are some limitations to the idea that federalism can promote unity and better decision-making through diversity. But it has tremendous value, nonetheless.
I developed some of the points made in this article in greater detail in various longer works, most notably my book Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration, and Political Freedom.
And here is the video of the panel on which I originally gave the talk. The panel was entitled “Does Federalism Lead to a More United or Disunited Democracy?” The other participants were Prof. Jud Campbell (Univ. of Richmond) and my George Mason University colleague Michael Greve. Judge Andrew Oldham (5th Circuit) moderated.