It’s not always as good, or bad, as it seems. The same can be said of this year’s national election. Conservatives and liberals should temper their enthusiasm and despair; this election was not an endorsement of any ideology. It was a revolt, as Peggy Noonan so aptly puts it, by the “unprotected” against the “protected.”
At its core were middle-class Americans, who had done everything they were told to do, but were frustrated by rising taxes and higher education and health care costs as their wages remained stagnant. They had lost hope in the future, for their children and in the American Dream. They felt disgust at the ruling political class and their crony friends and corrupt deals, who flourished as they struggled. This frustration boiled just beneath the surface until it exploded at the ballot box.
As Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The remedies for centralized power are devolution and empowerment – ideas that may now have bipartisan support.
In political terms, devolution involves shifting some federal programs to the states, so that the federal government will narrow its focus to its core functions. In other words, let blue states do blue things and red states do red things and see what works best.
This would be a welcome relief to many residents in blue states who are strongly opposed to conservative ideas and deeply distraught over the outcome of the election. Red state residents would welcome the move, too; conservatives have railed for years as the federal government expanded well beyond the enumerated powers of the Constitution.
Medicaid, the program that helps provide the poor and disabled with access to health care, has already been discussed as a likely candidate. Some states, for example, may opt to keep ObamaCare, some may prefer to incorporate a single-payer system, and others may choose a more market-oriented route. This approach could be applied to transportation, education and many other federal programs.
Empowerment goes beyond devolution by putting control in the hands of individuals and families. The empowerment Jack Kemp championed in the 1990s is even more appropriate today. Individuals and families usually have a better understanding of their needs and unique circumstances than a distant state or federal government bureaucracy. Plus, with today’s technology, these citizens can readily access information on cost and quality to help them budget their spending wisely.
Empowerment is also a powerful tool against corruption. When government centralizes purchasing decisions, multi-million dollar contracts are often at stake. This leads to massive lobbying expenses and incentives to rig the system in favor of political friends. Enabling millions of citizens to make purchase decisions, just like they do with every other consumer service, limits corruption and encourages innovation. Research on the “wisdom of the crowd” indicates the outcomes are likely better.
How would empowerment change the current reality for low- and middle-class Americans?
Today, too many children are stuck in failing schools while the elite have access to the best schools and can afford tutoring and special services for their children. Imagine families empowered with Education Savings Accounts that level the playing field. In Georgia, the state has struggled to find a way to address failing schools; empowerment gives parents the means to address the problem themselves.
Today, most Georgians struggle to find medical care they can afford while the elite can afford to pay “concierge” doctors to make house calls when they are sick. Imagine individuals empowered with Health Savings Accounts who can embrace innovative concepts such as direct primary care, which provides unprecedented access to affordable medical care.
These are just two examples. Georgia, which shares these problems, has the opportunity to lead in solutions. Georgia’s leadership on bipartisan criminal justice reform shows how it can be done.
Devolution and empowerment are the best ways to bring this nation and our state back together after a polarizing election. Georgia needs to be ready. More than that, Georgia needs to be a leader.
(Kelly McCutchen is President of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches.)