A "Creative Federalist" Blast from the Past

Read old magazines if you can get your hands on them. I found this gem a little over a year ago at a friend's place, and it was so good I typed it up and emailed it to myself for safekeeping.

You will notice a host of ridiculous statements, some of which were obviously ridiculous then and some of which have been refuted by the iron fist of history. (My personal favorite is ?It is possible to think of vast increases in federal government power that do not encroach upon or diminish any other power.?)

Further you will notice two more things which are not explicitly stated in the article. First, even back then the media were already in bed with the Democratic Party. Second, almost as timeless as economic principles themselves is the belief that our time is somehow unique and that rules which governed our actions in the past are no longer applicable.

And the last thing before I let you read the article, think about other brand new Cabinet-level departments you've heard about recently, and the same mix of obviously wrong and soon-to-be-proven wrong ideas that supported them.

LIFE magazine, Feb 11, 1966.

A Chance for Creative Federalism

President Johnson wants to rebuild whole neighborhoods in a number of cities?perhaps as many as 70. And he would have Washington put up 90% of the money. The program would deal not only with housing but also the health, education, welfare, transportation and recreation facilities of the affected area.

The usual complaints are heard from all sides?that the plan is another lavish New Deal handout or that it is just a skimpy rehash of existing programs. To New York G.O.P. Congressman Paul Fino it is a power grab: ?No city that refuses to turn over its municipal affairs to a federal commissar will get a nickel,? he glooms.

The complainers miss the point?and may be missing an opportunity. The ?Demonstration Cities Program,? as it has been tagged, is remarkable not for its size (a relatively modest $2.3 billion spread over six years) but for what is shows about the Johnsonian concept of ?creative federalism.?

This is more than a catch phrase. Writing in FORTUNE (January 1966), Max Ways makes the distinction clear. Ordinary federalism implies that the central government and state and local governments have a strictly limited amount of power to share. ?Creative federalism? describes the situation now developing as technology and our society?s natural vigor widen the range of available choices. ?Total power?private and public, individual and organizational?is expanding very rapidly.? Therefore, Ways says, ?It is possible to think of vast increases in federal government power that do not encroach upon or diminish any other power.?

Johnson?s urban program is a concrete example of this concept. By letting local authorities actually spend federal money (under the overall surveillance of a locally chosen supervisor who aligns their efforts and serves as a contact with Washington), those authorities are supposed to wax stronger and more effective. Federal funds will, however, not simply be ?left on the stump? to be used, misused or stolen, as was the case in some earlier urban renewal operations. The federal government?by virtue of its capacity to see and act across the boundaries of local government?will coordinate, prevent overlap and offer guidance of many kinds.

If the program works the result is clearly more ?power? for everybody to share. Washington is in a position to jar critics into trying new approaches??we intend,? says the President, ?to help only those cities who help themselves??because one of the main theses of ?creative federalism? is that the money will go where it will do the most good, not necessarily where it is most lacking. Of course, some flexibility and ingenuity will be needed in Washington too. The new Cabinet-level Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which will oversee the program, is mostly an amalgam of agencies with a reputation for stodginess.

The U.S. already has had enough experience with urban recovery projects, good and bad, to know that local initiative and competence are indispensable. The President?s plan must be judged by how well it stimulates the cities themselves to use their imaginations. On paper, it appears well calculated to do just that.

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"creative federalism" =

"creative federalism" = "compassionate conservatism" = BS

Just so much principle-diluting rationalization dressed up as new thinking. Great find, Randall.

It's like history is simply

It's like history is simply sequential mistakes from which very few learn.

Don't worry, Jonathan,

Don't worry, Jonathan, they'll get it right next time.