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A New System - out of balance?

Given the enormous changes to the American federal system over time, it is reasonable to ask: are we seeing the creation and evolution of a new system of government in the United States? 

David B Walker, in The Rebirth of Federalism (2000), provides a compelling account of the ways in which today's intergovernmental system has become more complicated. Since 1960, there have been a number of transformational shifts, across different dimensions (attitudinal, political, representational, programatic, fiscal, and institutional). According to Walker, there is no way that a return to a simple "cooperative federalism of yesteryear will ever occur, not to mention a drive back to traditional...federalism" of the pre-New Deal era.


Yet, Walker argues, adds, this does mean that we can simply ignore these transformational shifts. Current generations will have to find ways to navigate an increasingly complicated, overloaded, unbalanced ("top heavy") system. In short, today's federalism is a "conflicted federalism." 


What are the most important shifts to pay attention to - in coming years? Walker identifies 12 "dimensions of recent change," which merit close attention: 


  1. increases in the use of Federal aid dollars to states

  2. proliferation of grant programs

  3. collapse of federal-state partnerships

  4. shifting positions of authority between the states and Federal government

  5. expansion of Federal programs and "national activism"

  6. diversification of the forms of federal aid

  7. creeping conditionalism and "galloping social regulations"

  8. creation of new regional programs

  9. erosion of Federal-state tax comity

  10. [partial] revitalization of states

  11. centralizing tendencies of Supreme Court decisions

  12. emergence of national party politics 

The Rebirth of Federalism (2000, 1-16)

Early Republic Dashboard
Federalism and the Constitution
Dual Federalism
Outdoor view of Franklin Delano Roosevel
The words _state of_ in front of State C

The Federalism Index strives to measure federalism through two different views: modern and historical.

Modern Federalism


The modern view focuses on measuring the relationship between the federal and state government in the past few decades, as well as informing the user on topics that are currently being debated in the political and philosophical arenas.

The current view is split into different project areas such as regulations, public lands, spending, etc. that can be seen on our projects page.

The Federal Regulations Dashboard is our first dashboard for our current analysis of federalism.  It explores different aspects of regulatory activity and how it has changed over time.  Users will be able to create their own data sets using the interactive graphs as well as explore information regarding the data sets and find links to explore the topics in greater depth.


Click here to explore the dashboard

Historical Federalism

The historical view measures key moments or "chapters" in American history where federalism has been explored or redefined, leading to our current system today through key empirical data.

To explore a timeline highlighting these various chapters click here.

Federalism TodaySam
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