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Opinion: Federalism shows its age fighting COVID-19, climate change


The division of responsibility between the federal government and those of the states is a hallmark of American government, but one increasingly under strain by large-scale challenges. (Tribune Content Agency) Noah Feldman, law columnist for Bloomberg View There wasn’t much President Joe Biden could have done about this month’s Texas energy disaster. Ditto the slow-moving vaccine rollout. The reason is the same: federalism, a system dating back to the 1780s and only seriously overhauled once.

Although federalism still has some benefits, its obsolescence is increasingly obvious when the U.S. faces crises that, like climate change and COVID-19, don’t respect state boundaries. Energy and health care are only two of the crucial infrastructure systems that remain state-regulated or state-run. And many of those systems are in need of updating everywhere — not piecemeal, as federalism tends to support.

Federalism was, in important ways, an American invention — the brainchild of James Madison. It was a product of political necessity for 13 states that had been separately administered as British colonies and that had already tried and failed to function as a loose confederation between 1776 and 1787.

Unifying into a single nation would have been practical for the early United States. At the […]

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