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The concept of federalism, which describes the complex relationship between the states and the federal government, is one of the most revered sacred cows on the American political scene. Conservatives and liberals alike extol the virtues of state autonomy whenever deference to the states happens to serve their political needs at a particular moment. Yet both groups are also quick to wield the power of the supremacy clause, while citing vague platitudes about the need for uniformity among the states, whenever a single national rule in a particular area furthers their political interests. The relationship between the ideal of federalism and the reality of the supremacy clause thus emerges as one of the most convenient of political expedients. This Article seeks to place this relationship within the context of the economic theory of public choice.

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