Local rules

October 28, 2008

The Richmond Palladium-Item jumps on the statewide smoking BANdwagon:

But as much as this newspaper traditionally champions local government and home rule decision-making on most issues, some issues simply command a wider, more uniform standard. Legislators have, for example, already said the time of day is one of those, weighing in mercifully a few years back to remove the state from a crazy-quilt pattern of time zones to embrace uniform, statewide daylight-saving time.

Smoking ought to be another. Richmond- area residents can accept the fact that our rules on smoking will differ widely from those of our Ohio neighbors. There’s an accepted level of jurisdiction sovereignty there. But Richmond’s rule ought not vary widely from those imposed on residents in Wayne County, or Wayne County’s variance from neighboring Henry or Randolph counties, and on and on.

There is every difference in the world between smoking bans and time zones, which the Richmond paper doesn’t seem to understand and which would be a useful topic for greater discussion. Time zones, like a uniform currency, are legitmate concerns for the national, never mind state, government. As we travel around this vast country, it is necessary to have some things in common so we know how to deal with each other. Smoking is, like prostitution and gambling and a thousand other things, one of those issues we should decide based on what kind of community we want to have.

There is a concept much admired in libertarian circles but mostly ignored in mainistream politics called “local knowledge,” the idea that communities know their own needs and desires and challenges and should decide their own fates accordingly. The more local our decisions, the more likely they are based on how we actually want to live. The more removed they are, the more likely they are based on somebody’s arbitrary idea of how everybody else should live.

It isn’t always easy to know where to draw such lines. The air above us moves freely, so it affects us all and should be controlled by the federal government, right? But the pollution above Gary’s factories doesn’t make it to the cornfields of DeKalb County. I should be in charge of the stream on my property, but if it empties into a tributary that empties into the common supply of drinking water, what I put into it matters to everybody else. Education is the quintessential “local knowledge” issue, but we also want to develop the skills as a nation to help us compete in the world economy.

Understanding those lines is essential to appreciating our federalist system, which at its core demands the careful defining of local, state and nation prerogatives. Unfortunately, the trend is away from local decisions and toward centralization. That means we are getting fewer rules based on how we want to live and more based on the arbitrary implementation of top-down power. That deserves a lot more debate than it has been getting.

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One Response to “Local rules”

  1. Bob G. Says:

    Hmm…
    Centralization = socialism.
    At least it sure SOUNDS that way.

    Tell ‘ya what, Leo..lemme smoke a stogie, have a glass of lambrusco, and get back to ‘ya…fair enough?

    😉

    B.G.


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