01/16/2012 01:56 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2012

The Flimflam Artists

How is this for sheer bunkum. A principle mantra of the Republican presidential hopefuls is their pledge to reduce the size of a "bloated", "intrusive" federal government, supposedly to encourage more freedom and productivity in the marketplace.

If you listen closely to what the candidates are saying, however, smaller government is hardly a foregone conclusion. Invoking the Constitution's Tenth Amendment, the presidential aspirants maintain that the authority and regulatory responsibilities of certain "expendable" federal departments and agencies should be farmed out to the states. What the Republicans are talking about is substitution, not reduction of government in scope.

That raises the question of whether the states can step in and do a better job than the federal entities that the GOP candidates want to either shrink or abolish altogether.

There are undoubtedly situations in which state government is in a better position than Washington to administer the law. But in regard to regulation of harmful substances and/or conditions that transcend state lines, adherence to uniform national minimum standards overseen by a central federal government is essential to prevent the nation from lapsing into anarchic laissez-faire. Left to their own devices, states could end up working at cross purposes. Without minimum anti-pollution standards, a state could sacrifice environmental concerns for short term economic gain by luring corporate polluters away from more responsible neighbors.

State officials can be more susceptible than their federal counterparts to pressure from local special interests seeking benefits at the expense of the public interest. For example, the odds are that it would be easier for a corporate bigwig to exert undue influence on a state official living down the street than on a federal lawmaker from out of state.

It should be noted that there is one scenario in which a victorious Republican presidential nominee could make good on the pledge to get government off our backs. If he managed to cut back or eliminate a federal government agency and left its duties up to the states, suppose some of those states lacked the resources to pick up the slack?

Mission accomplished.