Mon, Mar 17, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Trend toward more power for the people

Global movements lobbying for secession, devolution and decentralization show public dissatisfaction with the decision making processes of governments

By Michael Boskin

In California, every decade or two, proposals surface to split the state into a North and South California. The more arid and populous south has traditionally been more politically conservative than the north (Los Angeles is an exception). Water diversion in a difficult drought year, along with California Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal for massive new infrastructure to send water south, has heightened tensions.

Tim Draper, a prominent venture capitalist, wants to put a proposition on the ballot to split California into six separate states. (California often makes big decisions — from limiting property taxes to formulaic restrictions on state spending — by ballot initiative.) Even if Draper’s proposed initiative qualifies and passes, it would require approval by the US Congress, which is unlikely.

Which responsibilities should be left primarily to individuals acting within markets, families and communities, and which should fall to government? and at what level of government — federal, regional, municipal or supranational — are the latter responsibilities best exercised?

These are timeless questions, but in an era of increased and instantaneous communication, centralized, big-government bureaucracies are creaking or worse. People want more effective and more affordable government that responds to their concerns, and are demanding that decisions be decentralized.

We may be in the early stages of reversing the trend toward increases in the size, scope and centralization of government, with authority devolving on more localized environments, closer to where people live and work. An increasing number of people seem to be increasingly unwilling to live by current government decisionmaking processes.

Even with democratic majority rule, minorities believe that their interests and rights — economic, cultural or religious — are not being protected. The proliferation of calls for devolution, secession and independence is but one manifestation of this tectonic shift.

Michael Boskin is a professor of economics at Stanford University and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He was chairman of former US president George H. W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers from 1989 to 1993.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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