A Parallel on Shoes and Limited Government

Some people think anything federally run is better than policies set by state and local governments. They reason that the federal government has more resources. It has access to the brightest minds in the nation, rather than just regional or local talent. It has more money. The country surely works better if we are all “on the same page” on most issues.

The opposite is true, and there is one “umbrella” reason why: you know what’s better for you and your family than someone 2000 miles away in Washington DC, who never heard of you.

To illustrate, consider Jane and Jim, a local couple, and their shoe sizes.

Jane and Jim are very much alike. Both walk upright, breathe air, and need approximately seven hours sleep at night. They like the same restaurants and politics; they exercise regularly and love sports, and share religious beliefs. Both enjoy work in the garden, and love time spent with family.

In spite of their harmony, they would be miserable if they had to wear the same shoes. Jane wears a women’s size 6—tall boots in the winter, colorful flats in summer. Jim wears men’s size 12, and his shoes all look alike. Jim thinks Jane is a tad frivolous, and Jane thinks Jim’s footgear is terribly boring. His size 12 foot cannot cram into her red, size 6 Mary Janes, and she would be hobbled shuffling along in his huge black lace-ups.

Our similarities as people apply nationally, as well. Wherever we live, we are very much alike. We breathe, sleep, and eat. We have interests and beliefs, keep our own schedules, and enjoy those we love. Because Americans are the same in many ways, we benefit from many of the same policies and procedures. Our similarities unite us.

Our shoe sizes do not. They range from newborn to men’s size 18 extra wide. Our shoe sizes must be customized.

Just as shoe sizes are unique, governments must be customized, as well. Montana’s sparse population with its vast, timbered hills and rugged mountains doesn’t “wear the same size shoes” as tiny Rhode Island, with its plentiful coastlines and waterways, and urban, eastern manners. Neither match Utah’s high desert setting with its water concerns and renowned recreation areas. Transportation needs vary, pollution policies and building codes differ, hunting and game policies are unique, and wage requirements are not the same, to name a few differences. Montana and Utah do not need Rhode Island’s maritime laws and intricate freeway interchanges; Montana and Rhode Island do not face Utah’s water shortages.

The problem with federal standards is that they are the same for everyone in every state. Federal standards—in education, transportation, business and commerce, family matters, and health care—are a one-size-fits-all situation: we all get size 9 shoes. Bigger feet writhe in pain, smaller feet are immobilized. Only the few with size 9 feet who like the government-issue style are well served.

One size doesn’t fit all in government, just as one size shoe doesn’t fit all Americans. That’s why we keep government as close to the people as possible—so we can make people comfortable, happy and well-cared for by state and local governments.

Our original Constitution provided for our needs and differences through strong, largely independent state governments. Though all were similar, state constitutions adapted to meet regional differences and needs. Those things needed by every state in the nation, such as a postal system, rules for bankruptcies and patents, and a national navy are to be handled by a federal government. Other national needs included a uniform money system and standardized measurements so trade between states could flourish. Twenty universal needs, including a federal court system, became national duties, as assigned in the Constitution’s Article 1. In all but these twenty areas, states were in charge to customize their policies. Amendments 9 and 10 in the Bill of Rights anchored that right.

Whether we wear red Mary Janes or black lace-ups, whether we live in Montana, Rhode Island or Utah, we need customized government kept close to the people. It just works best that way.