Even as the U.S. became more urban, “in most of America, local government remained largely Tocquevillean through the 1950s,” Codevilla writes. By that he means small and local. “A commuter to a job with a large corporation could still be a volunteer fireman and a power on the school board or town council in his suburb.” But in the decades since, he writes, states and the federal government have taken steps to consolidate power in capital cities. This has created a new, centralized regime, removed from the common man.
Central planning has been tried many places, but it isn’t likely to work. For example, Hollis describes a model city under construction in China. Purportedly carbon emissions will be slashed, water use will be limited and there will be 12 square meters of green space per person. Impressive. Except…
In London, today, carbon emissions are less than the Chinese city’s target. Water use per person is less. There are 105 square meters of green space for each person. And London grew on its own, without central planning.
The danger of centralized government is that, while it’s easy for a government to do harm, it’s often difficult for it to accomplish much. Consider the ongoing scandal about the George Washington Bridge. It was easy for a government functionary to slow up traffic. One e-mail closed a lane, and presto. Government’s power to block is limitless.
But, as David French wondered on National Review, what if the official had sent a note ordering that traffic flow more smoothly? He might have commissioned a study, or assembled a blue-ribbon panel. But the traffic tie-ups would have continued, month in and month out, while a nearly powerless government watched, building little and accomplishing nothing.
In this, government power is like the construction business. One man with a bulldozer can raze a 50-year-old home in one morning, but it takes a team of skilled craftsmen months to assemble a new dwelling on the same lot. Likewise ObamaCare: It takes almost no time to destroy the existing insurance system. Building a new one, as Barack Obama realized in November, is difficult.
The president had earlier made headlines with his 2012 comment that if you’ve got a business, “you didn’t build that.” He purportedly meant that people hadn’t built their businesses without help from others. But what he could have been talking about was cities, and the entire American governing structure.
The Constitution, as Franklin said, gave us a republic. We should be careful that centralized government doesn’t take it away.