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A laboratory is a place where experiments are done. An experiment can be medical, physical, chemical or of any other nature. Justice Brandeis referred to states as laboratories. He meant that the governance mode was being used to experiment whether the policies, laws, government directives and legislations addressing socio-political problems would work in one state without affecting pertinent administrative organs of governance in other states. In case an ideology being tested was implemented and did not work out in a state, it would not affect the whole country.
Most policies are formulated and implemented without proper estimation or quantification of the resulting effects. To Brandeis it was wise to first implement any new policies in one state. Their impacts would be assessed before being launched in other states. If a policy yields more disadvantages than benefits, it would not be replicated in other areas. In such an instance, the use of this metaphor was appropriate. If a policy turns out to be ineffective then it would only affect the area where it was first implemented.
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The nature of federalism is that it has a central government but rests its legislative powers on other constituent political regions. Every region has powers to make laws to govern it but the central government has an overall authority. There were major changes in both domestic and foreign policies which were implemented after the formation of the New Deal Era.
New Deal was introduced to overcome the great economic depression which was experienced after Second World War. There were many resolutions that were made in a view to recover the economy. The Republicans were against these programs while the Democrats supported. Because of these differences, the authorities in the federal states preferred implementing programs and policies in their respective states. If policies became successful then other States were free to implement them.