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A new study of the role of federalism in American politics, how it is a driving force in current polarization, inequality of policy and politics, and distrust of government

Kettl, Donald F.

The Divided States of America

Why Federalism Doesn't Work


    45,95 € / $52.50 / £44.00*

    eBook (PDF)
    Publication Date:
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    March 2020
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    Aims and Scope

    Why federalism is pulling America apart—and how the system can be reformed

    Federalism was James Madison's great invention. An innovative system of power sharing that balanced national and state interests, federalism was the pragmatic compromise that brought the colonies together to form the United States. Yet, even beyond the question of slavery, inequality was built into the system because federalism by its very nature meant that many aspects of an American's life depended on where they lived. Over time, these inequalities have created vast divisions between the states and made federalism fundamentally unstable. In The Divided States of America, Donald Kettl chronicles the history of a political system that once united the nation—and now threatens to break it apart.

    Exploring the full sweep of federalism from the founding to today, Kettl focuses on pivotal moments when power has shifted between state and national governments—from the violent rebalancing of the Civil War, when the nation almost split in two, to the era of civil rights a century later, when there was apparent agreement that inequality was a threat to liberty and the federal government should set policies for states to enact. Despite this consensus, inequality between states has only deepened since that moment. From health care to infrastructure to education to the environment, the quality of public services is ever more uneven. Having revealed the shortcomings of Madison's marvel, Kettl points to possible solutions in the writings of another founder: Alexander Hamilton.

    Making an urgent case for reforming federalism, The Divided States of America shows why we must—and how we can—address the crisis of American inequality.


    9 b/w illus. 8 tables.
    federalism is broken; benefits of federalism; problems of federalism; advantages and disadvantages of federalism; pros and cons of federalism; what is federalism; federal law versus state law; water quality standards; Flint water; education inequality; infrastructure inequality; environmental inequality; income inequality; health care inequality; California emissions; California environmental standards; EPA; fixing federalism
    Professional and scholarly;College/higher education;

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    Donald F. Kettl is the Sid Richardson Professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin. His books include Can Governments Earn Our Trust? and Escaping Jurassic Government. He lives in Austin, Texas. Twitter @donkettl


    "This outstanding book offers a fresh take on both classic and contemporary debates on American federalism. Kettl's work, scholarly yet spritely, shows why this is among the most important subjects in politics."—John J. DiIulio Jr., author of Bring Back the Bureaucrats: Why More Federal Workers Will Lead to Better (and Smaller!) Government

    "James Madison masterfully crafted a plan to create a united America, built around federalism, dividing power and responsibilities between a national government and the states. But federalism has turned, in an age of polarization and tribalism, into an instrument driving inequality and disunity. In The Divided States of America, Donald Kettl brilliantly examines the history of federalism, looks at its evolution and devolution, and, recognizing the formidable challenges ahead, offers a path forward. Every student of American government and politics will learn and profit from reading this book."—Norman Ornstein, The American Enterprise Institute

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