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Into the Great Wide Open

by on January 17, 2017 5:00 AM

Winter break in Happy Valley came to a close last weekend as the students returned for the start of the spring semester at Penn State -- semester whose name is either a cruel joke or a testament to the capacity of humans to hope.

One of the benefits of the university’s old term calendar system for classes – four equal 10-week marking periods that were done away with in the early 1980s – was they were aptly named and closely coincided with their respective seasons. So you would currently be approaching the middle of the cold, dark, bitter “winter” term. Sounds a little more accurate in describing our frigid weather conditions than starting “spring” semester, doesn’t it?

Speaking of chilly weather conditions, there seems to be an icy feeling in the air around parts of the country,  a feeling not at all connected to the continued winter storms which have been elevated to celebrity and serious threat status through naming. What letter of the alphabet are we up to this week? Must be “J” – we’ve got Jupiter coming through.

No, this icy feeling seems to be connected to a certain federal government event occurring later this week. As a matter of fact, on Friday of this week I will be working in Washington, D.C., where I have been on Jan. 20 every four years for the last 16 years (or Jan. 21 if the 20th is a Sunday).  

That day the United States of America will inaugurate its 45th leader of the executive branch.

There are those in the Centre Region who will be mortified about this event, those who will be ecstatic, and those for whom it will be another Friday in a long line of weekly Fridays. For my part, I will be working with a group of people who believe in the power of the arts to do wonderful things for this great big wide-open country.

And that’s one of two important things to remember as next week rolls around. The United States is a great big wide-open country. The other is that the federal government may be one of the controlling authorities in your life, but it’s by no means the only one, and in many cases isn’t the largest or most influential.

Which is why every four years, when supporters of the defeated presidential candidate cry out, “I’m moving to [insert the name of another country, most frequently Canada]”, it makes me think.

You see, we live in the United STATES of America. When the colonies decided to band together to form a country back in the 1700’s, they had been acting as independent governments similar to small countries. When the states united many were afraid of the new powers of our national government and insisted on amendments to the organizing Constitution of this then-new country. The first 10 of these amendments became the Bill of Rights, and the most popular of those amendments at the time – the tenth – was a protection of state power.  

The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

And 230-some years later, after thousands of additions to federal rules and regulations, the states – and by extension local authorities – still wield a hefty amount of power over your daily life. Not the federal government or whoever happens to be its leader.

Let’s look at your day. You wake up in a house or apartment that pays real estate taxes to a local authority and was constructed to codes decided on and enforced by local authorities. You eat food in or from businesses regulated by the state. You take a shower in water provided by a local authority. You drive a car that is registered and inspected by the state on roads provided, maintained and enforced by local government and the state. You stop at stop signs and at red lights installed by local government and the state. You send your kids to schools run by local authorities and the state. You pay for gas that is regulated and taxed by the state. You go to work in a business that is chartered and regulated by the state and taxed by state and local authorities.

As you can see, state and local authorities wield a lot of influence over your daily life. So much so that one of the biggest ways to make a change in your life in this great country is… move to another state.

Don’t want to pay state and local income taxes? Do you find car inspections a hassle? Want fluoride in your water? Want to homeschool your kids without interference from others? Want to smoke pot? Want easy access to beer and wine? Don’t like the roads? Want to launch your inner-tube from a boat ramp? Want to eat what you want in the quantity you want?

These and many, many other parts of your daily life can be changed to fit your needs and desires simply by moving to another state. That is the beauty of this great country.

Look at it this way – the U.S encompasses around 3.8 million square miles. The continent of Europe encompasses 3.9 million. We have 50 states. Depending on how you count countries or “sovereign nations,” Europe has between 45 and 50 countries.  

But let’s say you are Austrian – Austria being a country about the size of South Carolina – and you are unhappy with how you are governed. So you decide to move to Portugal – a country the size of Maine. Your move will be a similar distance drive as that of someone moving from South Carolina to Maine, but it will go through at least three countries requiring border crossings and end up in a place that speaks a different language and requires a whole series of administrative hoops to get through to become a citizen. If you move from South Carolina to Maine you won’t need a passport, can change your car registration and driver’s license in a day, and will speak the same language (mostly). But your life will be different in many ways that could be meaningful to you.

That is one of the joys of this great big wide-open country. Maybe you do or don’t like the person at the top. But making a big change in many of the things that directly affect your everyday life doesn’t require renouncing your citizenship – you can find a state that better fits your personal wants and needs. It won’t make the federal government go away, but it can make your life better. As for me right now, I’m happy in Happy Valley, in the state of Pennsylvania.



John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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