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James Buckley and Federalism

Chris Edwards

I join Roger Pilon in expressing sadness at the passing of federal judge and U.S. senator James Buckley. I became acquainted with Jim when he was in his 90s, and I was so impressed that he was still actively considering policy issues and influencing public debate. James Buckley reached the century mark, and his mind was sharp until the end.

Jim emailed me out of the blue around 2013 asking whether he could come over and chat about my writings on federal aid to the states. Soon after, he pulled up his car to Cato having driven down from Connecticut, and we chatted for an hour or two. He had read my 2007 study on aid to the states and had been inspired to write a book on the topic.

Jim agreed with me that the massive system of more than 1,100 aid‐​to‐​state programs was awful and ought to be entirely repealed. In subsequent months, we emailed occasionally about points to include in his book, which was published in 2014. Saving Congress from Itself is quick read at 95 pages, and a great introduction to the reasons why reviving federalism would improve American governance.

“The United States faces two major problems today,” Jim began his book, “runaway spending that threatens to bankrupt us and a Congress that appears unable to deal with long‐​term problems of any consequence.” A key source of both problems, he said, is the centralization of spending and regulatory power in Washington stemming from the massive aid‐​to‐​state system.

Aid‐​to‐​state programs are bureaucratic, wasteful, and undermine democratic responsibility. They also overwhelm federal lawmakers with a vast range of policy topics they know little about. Jim noted, “Congress’s current dysfunction is rooted in its assumption, over the years, of more responsibilities than it can handle. As a result, its members now live a treadmill existence that no longer allows them time to study, learn, and think things through. Instead, they substitute political reflex for thought.”

Jim argued that repealing aid‐​to‐​state programs would allow the federal government to focus on truly national matters, put the government on sounder financial footing, and free the states to increase the quality of domestic programs.

I put Jim on my email list for my studies and opeds, and up to age 98 he was regularly responding with follow up questions and observations. So inspiring. Jim cared deeply about American freedom, and his book described one crucial way we can work to revive it.

Jim discusses his book here and you can find it on Amazon here. My main studies on federal aid are here and here.

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