Blogs > Liberty and Power > Why Libertarians Should Favor Decentralism

Nov 13, 2006 5:38 pm


Why Libertarians Should Favor Decentralism



Roderick Long has made one of the strongest set of arguments I've ever seen.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


Jason Pappas - 11/15/2006

Your skepticism of federal power is warranted.

Perhaps we’re in an area where rigor isn’t possible and long-term guidelines suggest prudent measures but don’t clearly define a solution. I wonder if the federal/state/local distinction should be viewed as another opportunity for checks and balances just as the executive/legislative/judicial helps to increase the gridlock we’ve come to know and love. If so, we’d have to construct a “mixed” form of government that increases the chances of blocking illiberal measures rather than doubling the chances of limiting freedom. Has someone done work in this area?

Let me ask, as a rhetorical question: are advocates of decentralization overjoyed at the Kelo decision? After all, this took property rights out of the federal domain to allow the localities to decide the application and limits of eminent domain. Yes, I know it didn’t take decentralization far enough – to the household level. But that begs the question: which level protects the individual best?


Anthony Gregory - 11/14/2006

"Thus, while you argue that a complete decentralization would solve the problem, I’ll argue (for now) that a complete federally constitutionally-protected regime would best prevent erosion of liberties by preventing the weeds from taking root at the local level."

Yes, but a complete federally constitutionally-protected regime that favors liberty in general is a fantasy. The local socialism you discuss was simply absorbed and expanded by the federal government. The realistic choice isn't between local tyranny or a cental state that actually leans more libertarian than the localities it policies. States are inimical to liberty, and it is the nature of a central state to be hostile to freedom. Empowering it with the authority to do good in the way of centrally administering liberty is just as corrupting and problematic as empowering it with the authority to do good in economic policy.


Jason Pappas - 11/13/2006

I’m quite skeptical of Long’s thesis as I am skeptical of the antithesis. But since Long has stated the case for decentralization, he might enjoy some criticism.

Long makes near tautological statements: “They [Confederates] simply didn't take decentralization far enough. The true defender of secession was Lysander Spooner, who defended not only the secession of Confederate states from the Union but also the secession of slaves, with their homesteaded plantation property, from the authority of their masters.”

Why not just say that the ultimate secession is individual liberty and the ultimate decentralization is individualism? The problem, however, isn’t addressed. It is, of course, one of dealing with finite states while aspiring to greater liberty. Do states that rule over smaller domains wither more easily than states that rule over larger domains? Do smaller domains degenerate to tyranny more/less readily than larger?

As you reviewed history, you left out some of the most important factors about 19th century governments: regulation and taxes were part of local governments long before they became part of the federal government. In north eastern cities, for example, welfare, regulation, and corruption (not to mention public education) were extensive (Boss Tweed ring a bell?) long before the federal government created trust-busting, corporate welfare, social security and the department of education.

Let me put forth the thesis that it was a lack of federally protected individual property rights that allowed local governments to experiment with economic interventionism and inculcate the welfare/regulatory mentality long before populist demand brought these policies to the federal level in large measure. Thus, while you argue that a complete decentralization would solve the problem, I’ll argue (for now) that a complete federally constitutionally-protected regime would best prevent erosion of liberties by preventing the weeds from taking root at the local level. From historical evidence it appears the disintegration of liberty was spearheaded by local efforts ... at least from the history I remember. Comments?