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Monday, January 24, 2005

Lessons of history - #2, the dynamics of a federal system

Re. Laura Mansnerus, "New Jersey Faces Tough Competition for Stem Cell Scientists," NYT, 1/17/05, A16: From a historical perspective, one of the fascinating developments since 1980 (the end of the New Deal era, it seems) has been the revivial of state governments as potent policymakers. This story is about the competition among some American states--most recently, New Jersey--to develop stem-cell research capabilities, now that the Bush administration has removed the federal government from this field of activity. Interstate competition will prove to be a boon for stem-cell research, at the same time that it produces, in the words of Daniel Perry, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, "duplication and splintering in research," hence, "a crazy-qult pattern across the U.S." The dynamic here is the same as that in the history of incorporation policy in the U.S., one of the few policy areas not to have been federalized between the 1880s and the 1970s. In incorporation policy, interstate competition brought about the (in)famous "race to the bottom" (that is, towards ever laxer regulation) and it's hard to see how a similar result can be avoided in this case.

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