Surrounding many of the debates about the public sector has been one about which government level should be involved in performing which functions. As an empirical matter, both centralization and decentralization have occurred together throughout U.S. history. The vast majority of federalism choices are mainly made to resolve the equality/diversity (pro-centralism) and uniformity/ experimentation (pro-decentralization) dilemmas endemic in a federal system. There is no a priori basis for knowing which government level is best, but beyond constitutional restrictions, the criterion should be the very pragmatic one of which level is best able to take on the problem at hand.
This chapter is an excerpt from the book The Government We Deserve: Responsive Democracy and Changing Expectations, available from the Urban Institute Press.