February 3, 2022

The power of the local

From our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2017 – The dismal days of Trump have left many feeling helpless and disillusioned. But, as we have noted in the past, the disasters of the elite are only part of our social, cultural and political story. It is easy to forget that our states and communities are where most positive change begins. As I noted in my 1993 book, Captive Capital:

 The ill effects of Washington influence peddling presents one of the strongest arguments for devolving power from the capital to the fifty states and their localities. While corporate lobbyists function at all levels, it is often easier and cheaper for citizen action groups to fight them locally than it is to take them on nationally. Even the environmental movement, with its major presence in Washington, has benefited enormously from the impact of local action and pressure. In 1992 alone, for example, the 100 largest localities pursued an estimated 1700 environmental crime prosecutions, more than twice the number of such cases brought by the federal government between 1983 and 1991. Another example has been the drive against smoking. While the tobacco lobby ties up Washington, 750 cities and communities have passed indoor smoking laws.

So powerful is the potential for decentralized action that pressure groups sometimes demand that federal or state laws prevent lower levels of government imposing their own restrictions. In one case, the North Carolina legislature passed anti-smoking legislation that, under tobacco industry pressure, preempted local action on the matter. The bill, however, had a six-month delay before it took effect; during this interim some 30 communities passed their own laws.

Richard Klemp, vice president for corporate affairs for the Miller Brewing Company -- that is to say their chief lobbyist -- laid out the stats of the problem in a 1993 speech. Klemp noted that the firm had to deal with 7600 state legislators, 535 members of Congress, 50 governors, one president, hundreds of regulatory officials, and thousands of mayor and city councils. "At each biennium," he said, "there are more than 200,000 bills introduced in the state legislatures and 12,000 bills introduced in Congress, any one of which could have a limiting or potentially devastating effect on the brewing industry . . . “

Over the past few decades, liberals have increasingly favored federal over state and local action, so much so that this bias has hurt their reputation among ordinary Americans who approve of their state and local government far more than they do of the feds.

Already under Trump scores of mayors have come together to indicate their support of the Paris accords on climate. States are refusing to participate in Trump’s attack on the voting system and many states have provided protection from immigrants against the federal assault.

It’s not a question of either/or but of rediscovering the power of the local and making it an important part of the drive towards change.

No comments: