The Failure of Centralizing Power

I live in a country where power is becoming increasingly centralized. More and more decisions are being made on the federal level while fewer and allowed to be made at the state, county, city, and individual level. The banning of gay marriage in North Carolina demonstrates the flaw with centralized power quite effectively:

Earlier this month, Amendment 1 — an amendment to the North Carolina state constitution that precludes the state from recognizing gay marriage, among various other kinds of domestic partnership — was passed by voters. Much has already been made of the bill’s discriminatory content, the former need to “vote against,” and the current need for repeal, but much of this looks more like an exercise in missing the point than anything else.

In the end, the problem with Amendment 1 is not so much that this election was decided in one direction and not the other, but rather that we live in a society content to employ statewide voting as a means of collective decision making in the first place.

One of the problems with a statewide referendum on the issue of gay marriage, or any domestic matter, is that it implicitly assumes that the state — as opposed to the county, city, neighborhood, place of business, or any other pool of people — is the appropriate unit for collective decision making. It suggests that state residency is a common denominator fundamental enough to bind 9.7 million people to one another’s opinions, interests, and backgrounds — complex, diverse, and contradictory though they may be. It contends that it is morally acceptable for 93 counties to decide an issue not only for themselves but for the remaining seven as well. And it denies a man — or two, or several — the opportunity to lead his life as he, and not as his distant neighbors, sees fit.

The larger the collective decision making group is the worse things get. Most countries define decision making groups on arbitrary borders. In the United States decisions made on a federal level affect over 300 million individuals. Decisions made on a state level in Minnesota affect 5 million people. Any decision made by the city of Minneapolis affects almost 400,000 people. To many this doesn’t seem like a bad thing, after all they wish to push their morals onto as many people as possible. There are many religious individuals who would love to pass a law that established their religion as the state religion on a federal level. They don’t care about the, likely, hundreds of millions of individuals who don’t share their religious beliefs.

Collective decision making fails due to the fact human beings are not insects, as much as the collectivists wish we were. There is no human hive, individuals do not mindlessly follow the orders of a queen be. We are each rational beings capable of making decisions independent of one another. As a group of individuals becomes larger the chances of successful collective decision making decreases.

It is the epitome of arrogance to believe you know what is best for another individual. That arrogance doesn’t go away simply because an arbitrary number of people agree with one another. Every person who voted on Amendment 1 in North Carolina was saying, “I know what’s best for everybody in this state.” When somebody advocates for collectivist philosophies they are saying the previously mentioned arrogance goes away when decisions are made by groups. If the group decides to ban gay marriage then it must obviously be the correct decision, right? No, in fact making an argument on such grounds is a logical fallacy known as argumentum ad populum.

The United States needs to wrestle power from the federal government and return it to the hands of the individual states. Once the individual states have the ability to make decisions that power must be wrestled away from them and returned to the counties. This process needs to continue until decision making power is put into the hands of individuals.