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Federalism in the United States

CON‑2.A.1 (EK)
Federalism is a core concept in the US government, involving a pact between the national government and its states. It consists of exclusive federal powers, exclusive state powers, and concurrent powers shared by both. Over time, federalism has evolved from a layered cake model to a marble cake model, with powers more mixed and overlapping.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] What we're going to do in this video is talk about the idea of federalism, which is core to the United States government. Now federalism, the word originates, its root comes from the Latin word foedus, which I'm probably not pronouncing perfectly, but it's in reference to things like a treaty, an agreement, a contract, a league, or a pact. And federalism you can view as a pact between a national government and its states. It's referring to a government that has various layers where you could have the national government, often known as the federal government, and then you have the states, and you're gonna have multiple states over here, and then you could have even further layers, and in the United States you indeed do. You have the local governments, and even within the local you have city governments, you have county governments. The analogy that's often made is originally the federal idea was kind of like a layered cake, so this is my best attempt at drawing a quick layered cake, where you could view each layer as one of the layers of government. So when I cut open that cake, maybe right over here this blue layer right over here, it's blue flavored cake, maybe it's an ice cream cake of some kind, that might be the federal government. Then this yellow, maybe it's mango-flavored, that would be the state government. And then you have your strawberry-flavored local government. That is one view of federalism, but it turns out in the United States, especially over the passage of time this has gotten mixed up a little bit. So even though the United States might have started a little bit closer to something like this layered cake, today it is more of a marble cake where the different layers and their powers are more mixed together, and so this is my attempt to drawing the mixing of these various powers. And not only do they mix, they overlap. That different layers of our federal government, some have exclusive powers, which means that's the only layer that has them, while some of them, while sometimes there are concurrent powers, which means these are powers that multiple layers might actually have. Now to appreciate what these exclusive and concurrent powers are, here's a Venn diagram that shows some of them. So on the left-hand side right over here you have your exclusive federal powers. So in the United States, only the federal government can coin money. You can't have money from Texas or California. Only the federal government can declare war, which is related to the idea of conducting foreign affairs, which once again, only the federal government can do. That's also related to raising armies, once again, only the federal government. Rules of naturalization, who becomes an immigrant, who gets a green card, who becomes a citizen, all determined by the federal government not by the states. And the federal government regulates not just foreign affairs, but foreign commerce, trade agreements, and how is trade done. They're regulating between the states. Now exclusive powers to the states, they conduct elections. You might say, "Wait, wait, wait. "Hold on a second. "Aren't there federal elections?" Well it turns out, even for election for a president, the elections are conducted by the state government. Remember, we have the electoral college. They want to figure out who should that state's electors vote for. Establishing local governments; what are the counties, what are the various jurisdiction within a state? Similarly, intrastate commerce, that's regulated by the state, about the commerce that happens within the state. And then the Constitution allows the states to be the main power in ratifying constitutional amendments. The Senate and House can propose amendments, but 3/4 of the states have to vote to ratify constitutional amendments. Now what we see in the middle of this Venn diagram, these are concurrent powers, which means that they are common to both federal and the state governments. You can have federal taxes and you can have state taxes. In fact, most of us have both. There are federal laws and there are state laws. Similarly, there's federal law enforcement, you can think of the FBI, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and of course you have state police and local police. The chartering of banks, eminent domain, which we might do another video on in the future, but this is the idea that a government can view taking land as the interest of the broader good in order to put down power lines or a highway and ideally compensate the people that it takes from if it's for the greater good. Establishing courts, you have a federal court system and a state court system, which we'll talk more about in future videos. And borrowing money, they both can issue bonds if they want to have a large project or to finance their deficit. All of these things are concurrent powers. Now this list is not exhaustive for any one of the three, for the exclusive federal powers, the concurrent powers, I'll do this dot, dot, dot here, and the exclusive state powers. And one thing that you will see, even certain exclusive state powers, so for example, education is for the most part considered an exclusive state power, but then you might say, "Hold on a second. "Isn't there a federal department of education?" I'll do that over here. And the way this is a good example of how the federal government, even when something might be more of an exclusive state power where the federal government can still influence it. And they do that through grants. So even though the states and local governments might run the schools, the federal government might say, "Hey, if you do X, Y, and Z, which we want you to do, "then we will give you more funding for your schools," and so that might be motivation for the states to listen to the federal government. So I will leave you there. This is super important to understand if you want to understand how the United States works, and frankly, most governments in the world today.