Until recently, concerns about the state and health of the American federal system seemed very close to a joke frequently told about the weather: everybody talks about it, but nobody ever does anything about it. President Reagan's proposal to move $47 billion in public spending among the federal, state, and local governments marks a sharp departure from the past tendency toward inaction; and the public debate about how functions and responsibilities should be distributed among levels of government and the private sector is once again intensely joined.
In September 1981 the Institute for Contemporary Studies held a special conference in Washington, D.C., on the subject of federalism. Organized by Robert B. Hawkins, Jr., of the Sequoia Institute, with help from Daniel J. Elazar, of the Center for the Study of Federalism, the conference focused on issues that were preoccupying the Reagan administration in this area, which the administration has identified as one of its major policy concerns. Besides scholars concentrating in this field, we had a number of participants from the Washington policy community -- including the White House -- as well as representatives from state and local governments.
Most of the chapters that follow are taken from papers given at the conference, together with comments by respondents. After the conference, however, we commissioned additional papers from Albert J. Davis and Michael S. Joyce, and we are also reprinting William A. Schambra's analysis of the theoretical roots of federalism.