Even though the names sound similar, confederal systems give an equally sharp contrast to federal systems.
The central government is dependent on the local units for its existence because they hold all the power.
The central government only has as much power as the local units allow it to have.
The United Nations and the European Union are examples of confederal systems.
After the Revolutionary War, the European Union debated whether to move in a federal direction.
Federalism, rather than a unitary or confederal system, makes a difference to American politics.
Federalism gave the founders a government that could take effective action, restore economic stability, and regulate disputes among the states, while still allowing the states considerable autonomy and possession of a narrative that they have, in many cases, more power than they actually do.
Federalism allows the government to respond to local needs and preserve local standards.
Local traffic laws, community school policies, and city and county housing codes are examples.
Federalism allows experimentation with public policy.
States may try different solutions to common problems and share the results of their experiments if laws and policies are not uniform across the country.
When Congress can't or won't act, federalism's flexibility can be helpful.
State governments can take advantage of the power vacuum created by the recent polarization in the nation's capital.
In the face of congressional gridlock over the development of fossil fuel resources, the states have leapt into the breach with their own energy policies, many times reflecting the political proclivities of the dominant party in the states.
The flexibility that federalism gives states has drawbacks as well.
All economies of scale are lost when policies are enforced locally.
As states administer national programs, functions are repeated across the country.
Laws can be difficult to enforce under federalism.
What is atStake?
The fact that federalism encourages local prejudices to find their way into law is problematic.
Americans don't have the same rights in all of the United States.
Federalism makes a difference in the lives of citizens.
It gives real power to the levels of government that are close to the citizens.
If there were only one national unit, citizens would not have access to officials and processes of government.
Federalism gives interest groups a variety of government levels at which they can try to gain political advantage.
A group that isn't successful at one level can try again at another and look for institutions that are more receptive to its requests.
If the southern states were allowed to control access to the voting booths, African Americans could not achieve significant political influence in the South.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave the national government the power to stop segregation.
When women weren't able to vote at the national level, they turned their attention to the states and won their right to vote.
The federal relationship puts the states in competition for scarce resources and has an impact on state politics.
"Smokestack chasing" occurs when states attempt to get both domestic and foreign industries to locate within their borders by providing them with tax breaks, loan financing, and educational training for workers, and by assuming the costs of roads, sewers, and other infrastructure that new industries would otherwise have."
Even though modern industry is no longer manufacturing and thus has no actual smokestacks, we can see this phenomenon as cities race to outdo each other in bidding to house Amazon's second headquarters.
Federalism is not a perfect system, but it has proved to be an effective compromise for American government.
The United States is not the only federal nation.
Other countries may distribute power differently than we do.
Federal systems include Germany, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and Switzerland.
The balance between national and state powers has changed since the Constitution was written.
The final wording about national and state powers was kept vague because of the founders' disagreement over how power should be distributed in the new country.
Since it wasn't clear how much power the different levels held, ardent Federalists and states' rights advocates were able to find support for their positions in the document.
The Supreme Court can decide to interpret the Constitution's meaning.
The people sitting on the Court have different interpretations.
Over time, the circumstances have changed the balance of state and national powers.
The end of slavery and the Civil War are just two of the major events that have changed the context of American life.
The different levels of government have different demands.
When we talk about federalism in the United States, we are talking about specific constitutional rules and provisions, but we are also talking about a constantly changing context in which those rules are understood.
We can see two trends when we look at American federalism.
The American government is growing at both the state and national levels.
The apparatus to satisfy the demands of the citizens of George Washington's time has grown as well.
The national government at the expense of the states has been a second trend within that overall growth.