Fears of Decentralization

Many libertarians, perhaps most notably Thomas E. Woods, support the decentralization of power from the federal government, including the power of nullification. Many people fear and denounce this power, often because they like the immense power of the central state and are supporters of big government. There are, however, some very real concerns by people who desire freedom as their highest political goal. A simple question, which is asked in various forms is “if decentralization leads to more freedom, why did African slavery thrive in a more decentralized America, and only go away (well, sort of) when the central state forced it to go away?” Similar statements could be said of Jim Crow.

Tom Woods briefly addresses a critical point which bears emphasis: a major problem with decentralization is that decentralizing power may have huge negative effects for people who cannot vote.  The very people who are most obsessed with them not having political power are the people who are most empowered by the receding power of the central state. This points to the people that libertarian activists should concentrate on protecting: non-citizens (including both legal and illegal immigrants) and convicted felons in states which strip them of the franchise. As most minorities have the ability to exercise the vote, the greatest evils of the past have no chance of being repeated. And some unprecedented benefits may come about. Without the significant support of the federal government, individual states could not maintain the murderous drug war at the levels at which it is currently prosecuted.  Family and morals-destroying welfare programs would have to be greatly scaled back without the ability to print money. Taxes would have to be levied to pay for these things, forcing citizens to carefully evaluate just how much they wish to impoverish themselves in the attempt to eradicate various victimless crimes.

The benefits don’t end there. Freedom would be catching in this country for several reasons. Our national myths support the value of freedom. The proximity of states and the freedom of movement among them, in the face of massive differences in the amount of liberty inside them, would mean that the most inventive, industrious people would tend to leave less free areas and go to more free ones. This would impoverish the most oppressive states, further pressuring them to liberate. Perhaps the single most important factor which would allow liberty to really catch in the United States is that the US military would not be looking to crush these efforts, as it does in other countries. If liberty is to be permitted by any government, it is likely that it will have to be permitted in the USA, as the American government is among the world’s most fervent supporters of foisting government on people, whether they like it or not, in the name of “stability.”

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  • I would tend to emphasize the benefits of decentralized taxes, in which communities would more practically be forced to choose between ‘services’ and cost.

    I believe this would also have benefits for the poor and disenfranchised. Economies are large networks. That is where you get a job. Our welfare and support programs would quickly evolve into much more useful (and I believe caring) programs if local communities ran them and paid for them; they would be more incented to help folks get nodal connections.

  • A large benefit of decentralized power is that it gives more power to voting with your feet and wallet. It is much easier to move away from a city that is oppressive than it is to move from a state. It is extremely difficult to move away from a country as you have to tackle major cultural barriers such as language. As people are able to more continuously migrate from city to city and state to state it puts pressure on those governments to provide quality framework. Essentially there becomes competition in government, which, if libertarians are right, will mean that state and local governments will shrink in size due to demand.

  • Robert, perhaps you’ve forgotten that decentralized government did not bring the slaves over to the New World. It was the big governments called The British Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese Empires that brought them over here ans enslaved them in the first place. The Us has not been decentralized since tyrant Abraham Lincoln decided to enforce his economic agenda on the entire US (see Thomas DiLorenzo’s book “The Real Lincoln”).

    The big government project known as the Northern States under King Lincoln also committed atrocities not only against whites in the South but also against the southerns slaves. Please read the book, “War Crimes Against Southern Civilians” (by Walter Cisco). Northern armies would commit atrocities such as hanging blacks by their thumbs until they promised to reveal where their master’s gold was. There is much more…

    • Mike writes:

      perhaps you’ve forgotten that decentralized government did not bring the slaves over to the New World. It was the big governments called The British Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese Empires that brought them over here ans enslaved them in the first place.

      Um, this has nothing to do with Mr. Wicks’ argument. The article points out that decentralization was indeed a problem when minorities were unable to vote. Are you denying this?
      P.S. when you procure a reading list you have already lost half the argument.

  • What about the fact that slavery existed in almost every civilization, including very centralized empires and the like? People really need to stop acting like the phenomenon of African slavery in the Americas was a unique experience in the history of the world. Civilzations of many colors and religions practiced slavery.