Agreeing to disagree

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Interstate compacts, which were discussed as a possible alternative to Obamacare at the Belmont Club some years ago, may enjoy a new vogue as progressive America rediscovers the advantages of autonomy in the age of Trump.  Interstate compacts you will remember are  an agreement between two or more states entered into with the consent of Congress to do something together. In 2011 Mother Jones ridiculed Health Care Compacts as “the Tea Party’s latest scheme to kill health care reform”.


The vehicle for this reform end run is called the health care compact, an interstate compact not very different in theory from the ones states use to create regional transit authorities, for instance. Recently, the nation’s largest tea party group, the Tea Party Patriots, has thrown its weight behind the concept, seeing it as another way of downsizing the federal government. But the group may have other motivations, too. TPP has received a significant amount of money from the measure’s backer, the Health Care Compact Alliance, an organization bankrolled by the right-wing heir to a Texas construction company fortune.

But now that the Left wants its own America it may find Interstate Compacts appealing. Sasha Issenberg of New York Magazine notes it is the obvious path to policies a Blue State may want to adopt but which a Red State may resist; single-payer health care system for instance.  He describes a hypothetical future.

The year is 2019. California’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, recently elected on a platform that included support for the creation of a single-payer health-care system, now must figure out how to enact it. A prior nonpartisan analysis priced it at $400 billion per year — twice the state’s current budget. There appears to be no way to finance such a plan without staggering new taxes, making California a magnet for those with chronic illnesses just as its tax rates send younger, healthier Californians house-hunting in Nevada and big tech employers consider leaving the state.

But Newsom is not alone. Other governors have made similar promises, and Newsom calls together the executives of the most ideologically like-minded states — Oregon, Washington, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland. What if they banded to create a sole unified single-payer health-care system, spreading risk around a much larger pool of potential patients while creating uniformity across some of the country’s wealthiest states?

Fifteen end up forming an interstate compact, a well-established mechanism for working together, explicitly introduced in the Constitution.


There are now dozens of policy areas in which the Left wants to chart its own course from immigration to climate. “Some states have attempted to enforce their own citizenship policies … After Trump withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, Governor Jerry Brown — he has said ‘we are a separate nation in our own minds'”.  Rather than force other states to accept their policies it may be easier to attempt a separate endeavor. Issenberg concludes “even if they don’t use the term, states’ rights has become a cause for those on the left hoping to do more than the federal government will.”

Nor are such tendencies purely hypothetical.  NBC news describes an actual effort by towns in rural Illinois to create “gun sanctuaries” — the Second Amendment equivalent of liberal sanctuary cities — places where authorities will simply not enforce “unconstitutional gun laws”.  Another case is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact initiated by Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, Hawaii, Washington, Massachusetts, DC, Vermont, California, Rhode Island, New York and Connecticut.  It aims “to award all their respective electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the overall popular vote.”

Unlike the Health Care Compact this initiative is highly praised by the newspapers. “The project has been supported by editorials in newspapers, including The New York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.”  But it may be resisted because it threatens to impose a policy upon the whole rather than affecting those who choose to do it.


The trend toward subdivision may not be limited to the United States.  Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia recently created what amounts to an Interstate Compact within the EU called the Three Seas Initiative.

The Three Seas Initiative aims at stimulating more rapid development of the region stretching between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas. This is to be achieved through both high level and multi-stakeholder commitment to boosting connectivity among Member States, with special focus on infrastructure, energy and digital interconnectivity…

While these 12 states are remaining within the EU it’s worthwhile to note the Three Seas initiative has an international component that looks suspiciously independent.  “The Initiative is intended to contribute to the strengthening of transatlantic ties. The US economic presence in the region provides a catalyst for an enhanced transatlantic partnership.”  Even as Angela Merkel complained that Europe couldn’t rely on America any more, Donald Trump was telling the Three Seas summit that “America will be a faithful and dependable partner in the export and sale of our high-quality and low-cost energy resources and technologies. We make the best technology and we make the best, best technology for fighter jets and ships and equipment, military weapons.”

The breakup of the giant political empires of the 20th century may be inevitable.  But the potential problem with these subdivisions, as Issenberg notes in his hypothetical future history of America,  is that they create disparate outcomes.  States which select winning strategies will end up cross-subsidizing or becoming immigration magnets for states that chose poorly.  Complicating the scenario is that compacts may succeed in certain respects and fail at others.  At all events countries whose constituent parts go their separate ways cease to be countries in the former sense.


The effective elimination of most environmental and employment regulations proved irresistible to manufacturers. Boeing announced it would stop making capital investments in its Seattle-area factory and begin to shift jet assembly to a new plant in Covington, Kentucky. … Unemployment in parts of the Red Fed fell below 2 percent and the region briefly reached 5 percent growth — each several times better than Blue Fed indicators — leading conservative economists to praise the Red Miracle. …

As soon as the Blue Fed established its single-payer system, medical specialists began taking their practices to states where they wouldn’t be subject to the Regional Health Service’s price controls or rationing. … Wealthy Blue Fed residents willing to pay out of pocket now invariably travel to Houston when they want an immediate appointment with a specialist of their choice. The arrivals area at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport is packed with chauffeurs from van services run by clinics supported by specializing in such medical tourism. …

fiscal experts say the Nordic-style welfare state that the Blue Fed has established is unsustainable if it just ends up as an unchecked provider of services to some of the Red Fed’s neediest cases. On the other side, some of the progressive activists who played crucial roles building early support for the health-care compact argue that the Blue Fed has an obligation to promote its values even beyond its borders. The debate rages across the region: What obligation do they have to other Americans who have democratically chosen to pursue a very different way of life?


What obligation?  The answer to that is “trade”.  There is nothing inherently unworkable about a situation in which leads to comparative advantage, provided that exchanges can be negotiated and externalities are managed.  Though it would be an inglorious end to the current unitary political order if the acrimony continues it may be preferable to a situation in which two parties try to force the other to live according to a manner they cannot accept.

The irony is that decades of growing federal power might lead in the end to its dispersal.  The risk of trying to control too much from the center is that it may fail.

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Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America, by T.J. Stiles. Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in History, this book paints a portrait of Custer that demolishes historical caricature, revealing a volatile, contradictory, intense person — capable yet insecure, intelligent yet bigoted, passionate yet self-destructive, a romantic individualist at odds with the institution of the military (he was court-martialed twice in six years). The key to understanding Custer, Stiles writes, is keeping in mind that he lived on a frontier in time. In the Civil War, the West, and many other areas, Custer helped to create modern America, but could never adapt to it. Stiles casts surprising new light on a near-mythic American figure, a man both widely known and little understood.


Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger. We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding or “tribes,” a connection now largely lost. But its pull on us remains and is exemplified by combat veterans who find themselves missing the intimate bonds of platoon life at the end of deployment and the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by military veterans today. Combining history, psychology, and anthropology, Junger explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning. He explains why we are stronger when we come together, and how that can be achieved even in today’s divided world.

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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