Celebrity is a two-edged sword when it comes to politics.Those on the right applaud the efforts of the Charleton Hestons and the Kelsey Grammars to weigh in on political issues, but lament the ignorance of Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman when they do. For the left, it is just the opposite.
Nevertheless, not many on either side would typically look to the ranks of professional athletes for serious commentary on weighty matters of the day. “World Peace” would not, ironically, speak with much authority on resolving conflict, nor would Tiger Woods draw many to his marriage enrichment seminars.Unfortunately, the pattern does not work in reverse: Congress, politicians, presidents, and do-gooders of all stripes seek to weigh in on employment and safety issues in, say, professional football.
Occasionally, though, a prominent pro athlete with celebrity does or says something that is a perfect illustration of a political point. Such is the case with Fred Mickelson, who recently came under fire for saying what many are thinking, and announcing his decision to leave the State of California in order to escape its inordinately confiscatory taxes.
There are two points here: the first is that Mickelson was pressured to renounce his comments, which he eventually did. It is unclear whether Mickelson is apologetic for merely having said aloud what was in his head, or that he actually now looks forward to paying more tax. Perhaps he renounced due to pressure from sponsors, but even if that were the case, it is a sad illustration how we proclaim free speech, but only such speech as won’t get you lampooned or lambasted on social media.
The second point is that Mickelson’s options, were he to reach his limit with California’s tax rates, included moving to a state whose tax rates were more to his liking. This is, in essence, a key component of the political structure we call federalism: because there is no [theoretically] all-inclusive national government, states are free to do what their citizens want, and citizens of one state can move to another because he prefers the political, economic, or social climate there better.
A key to federalism is a national government that is not the exclusive governing authority for its citizens. The 9th and 10th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution guarantee this, at least in theory. In other words, because Washington, D.C. does not dictate each state’s income tax rate, I am free to live under the government seated Montgomery, Alabama, or Bismark, North Dakota, or wherever.
But what is disturbing is some of the criticism Mickelson received, which included shame that he would even consider moving to a different state in order to pay less tax, because, well, it is his moral obligation to pay as much tax as he can. This sentiment is dangerously close to a complete enervation of the idea of federalism, itself. We see the same illustrated in efforts to create (new) national gun laws, national policy on health care, and so forth.
The beauty of federalism is that states are free to experiment with policy on a smaller scale than national governments are able to, and other states that are so inclined can emulate successful experiments for their own citizens. And, as Mickelson illustrates, citizens who don’t like their states’ experimenting can move to another. This is not possible when there is national policy on every issue: citizens lose freedom and government power goes unchecked.
For now, enjoy your federalism and freedom to move to another state. Just don’t tell anyone why.