the "New Federalism"? State and local governments were supposed to be
"laboratories of democracy," where new ideas could be tried out to
address social problems, where government would be more responsive to citizen
input at the local level. This was one of the justifications given for shrinking
the role of the federal government in social spending (but not military
spending) during the Reagan era.
recent years, as reform initiatives have been blocked at the federal level by
budget cuts and the strong corporate lobby in Washington, attention has turned
to the states on a number of issues, including health care reform, education
reform, and campaign finance reform.
the New Federalism took a body blow last week. The Supreme Court, whose
"conservative" justices supposedly like "states’ rights" and
dislike "judicial activism," struck down 9-0 a Massachusetts ordinance
which granted a preference in bidding for state contracts to companies which
were not doing business with the military dictatorship in Burma, whose
repression of democracy and use of forced labor have made it a pariah to human
the Court rejected Massachusetts’ argument that its sanctions against companies
doing business in Burma were identical to sanctions it had in the 1980’s against
companies doing business in South Africa, stating that the Court had never ruled
on the constitutionality of the anti-apartheid sanctions. In other words, the
Court implied that if it had been given the opportunity to find the anti-
apartheid sanctions unconstitutional, it would have done so.
court noted that the Massachusetts Burma law had run afoul of the rules of the
World Trade Organization, and cited this as evidence that Massachusetts was
interfering in U.S. foreign policy. The Court said that Congress pre-empted the
state sanctions when it passed federal sanctions, even though Congress never
said this was its intent. It seems that while many were focused on whether
nominees to the Supreme Court were pro- or anti- abortion, we wound up with nine
justices who are pro-Wall Street.
does this mean for gun control? On gun control, progress in Washington has also
might not think of gun control as a corporate power issue. After all, judging
from most press coverage, it’s the National Rifle Association that stands in the
way of reasonable regulations of guns.
the National Rifle Association is increasingly a front group for the gun
manufacturers and the national Republican party.
corporate lobby at large doesn’t care that much about access to abortion, gun
control, or prayer in schools. But they do care about Republican control. With
Republican control of the Congress and perhaps even the White House,
corporations can expect a very sympathetic ear for their demands for lower taxes
on corporations, lax regulation and enforcement, and no anti-trust scrutiny.
These positions are good for getting campaign contributions, but they’re not so
good for public consumption. "Vote for me so corporations can pay less
taxes, dump pollution and employ sweatshop labor" doesn’t play in Peoria.
That’s why it’s useful to Republicans, as the more blatantly pro-corporate
party, to mobilize their troops on issues like guns, abortion and school prayer.
strongly suggests that initiatives outside of Washington are necessary to force
change. More than 30 local governments around the country – joined this week by
New York City – are suing the gun industry for deceptive marketing practices and
for medical and law enforcement costs of gun violence.
threat of lawsuits induced Smith & Wesson to strike a deal with Philadelphia
to install safety locks on its guns. Philadelphia agreed to give Smith &
Wesson a preference in city contracts, as a reward for being more responsible
than other gun manufacturers.
bid preference could also run afoul of WTO rules. A foreign gun manufacturer
could argue before the WTO that Philadelphia, by granting a preference in
granting city contracts to companies that install safety locks, discriminates
against foreign gun manufacturers. For now the latest Supreme Court ruling on
the Burma laws would not apply, since there has been no Congressional action.
indicates the wide scope of the issues at stake. Democracy and the corporations
are in a race. Right now, the corporations control international economic policy
and have preponderant influence in Washington. At the local level, democracy
still has good odds on some issues. Corporations are doing their best to squeeze
those opportunities out of the system, and tighten their control. Local
governments should be pressed to assert their authority more strongly than they
have in the past.
Naiman Senior Policy Analyst Center for Economic and Policy Research 1015 18th
Street, NW, Suite 200 Washington, DC 20036 202-293-5380 x212 Fax: (202)
822-1199 [email protected] www.cepr.net