There is, finally, one fundamental national problem with which the state governments, no matter to what extent they may be liberated and invigorated, are wholly incompetent to deal. The regulation of commerce, the control of corporations, and the still more radical questions connected with the distribution of wealth and the prevention of poverty—questions of this kind should be left exclusively to the central government; or in case they are to any extent allowed to remain under the jurisdiction of the states, they should exercise such jurisdiction as the agents of the central government. The state governments lack and must always lack the power and the independence necessary to deal with this whole group of problems; and as long as they remain preoccupied therewith, their effective energy and good intentions will be diverted from the consideration of those aspects of political and social reform with which they are peculiarly competent to deal. The whole future prosperity and persistence of the American Federal system is bound up in the progressive solution of this group of problems; and if it is left to the conflicting jurisdictions of the central and local governments, the American democracy will have to abandon in this respect the idea of seeking the realization of a really national policy. Justification for these statements will be offered in the following chapter.
PROBLEMS OF RECONSTRUCTION—(continued)
Any proposal to alter the responsibilities and powers now enjoyed by the central and the state governments in respect to the control of corporations and the distribution of wealth involves, of course, the Federal rather than the state constitutions; and the amendment of the former is both a more difficult and a more dangerous task than is the amendment of the latter. A nation cannot afford to experiment with its fundamental law as it may and must experiment with its local institutions. As a matter of fact the Federal Constitution is very much less in need of amendment than are those of the several states. It is on the whole an admirable system of law and an efficient organ of government; and in most respects it should be left to the ordinary process of gradual amendment by legal construction until the American people have advanced much farther towards the realization of a national democratic policy. Eventually certain radical amendments will be indispensable to the fulfillment of the American national purpose; but except in one respect nothing of any essential importance is to be gained at present by a modification of the Federal Constitution. This exception is, however, of the utmost importance. For another generation or two any solution of the problem of corporation control, and of all the other critical problems connected therewith, will be complicated, confused, and delayed by the inter-state commerce clause, and by the impossibility, under that clause, of the exercise of any really effective responsibility and power by the central government. The distinction between domestic and inter-state commerce which is implied by the Constitutional distribution of powers is a distinction of insignificant economic or industrial importance; and its necessary legal enforcement makes the carrying out of an efficient national industrial policy almost impossible.