In the past, political centralization has become a source of tyranny. The more that power is centralized in the hands of a single individual or group of people, the more likely it becomes that those in power will make decisions that are not in the best interest of the people they govern. A decentralized political system, on the other hand, shifts power away from a governmental center so that it is closer to being in the hands of the people. For this reason, one of the many merits of decentralization is that it gives individual citizens more control over their own lives by allowing them more say in legislation and other governmental actions.
An advantage of government decentralization is that it takes power out of the hands of the few and puts it in the hands of the many, thereby giving individual citizens a stronger voice.
What Is Political Centralization?
When you think of government, you probably think of political systems that are centralized in some way. One immediately recognizable historical example of political centralization is the British Empire. During the centuries of the British Empire’s global rule, the monarchy and Parliament exercised judicial power over colonial subjects whose lands they would never visit and whose lives they might not understand. This political centralization caused many colonies to rebel. Notably, the Revolutionary War from which the United States was born began with cries against taxation without representation.
What Is a Decentralized Government?
A decentralized government is an organized political structure that distributes some or all of the governmental power to different points throughout a state. The purpose of a decentralized political system is to make citizens more active in the decision-making process in their government, therefore allowing individual people to exercise more power over their own lives.
Although the concept of a decentralized political system brings to mind elections by popular vote and small-town government, many modern, functioning national governments operate under varying degrees of decentralization. Representative democratic practices can also be a part of decentralized government even if citizens send their chosen representatives to speak for their interests in centralized seats of power.
What Are the Merits of Decentralization?
In addition to protecting citizens from governmental overreach, the numerous merits of decentralization include ease of access to citizens, a decrease in the bureaucratic burdens of centralized government and an increase in speed in policy implementation.
In decentralized governments, citizens have access to governmental offices that are closer to them. These offices can meet their individual needs. One example of this in the United States is local passport offices in major cities and the ability for U.S. post offices to act as de facto passport offices should the need arise.
Additionally, with greater decentralization comes a decrease in costs. Maintaining government bureaucracy requires both manpower and funding. By decentralizing power, individuals at the far ends of the web of decentralization can accomplish more with less because they have fewer citizens to manage.
Decentralized Government Example
One modern example of decentralized governance is the American federal government. The U.S. delegates many of its powers to the individual states even though a centralized government operates in Washington, D.C.
The centralized federal government has the ability to enact laws and wage war, but in order to do so, laws must be voted on by Congress, which is made up of people who were elected democratically by their constituencies. The representative democracy embodied by Congress and its powers is a form of decentralized government. The Supreme Court and the presidency are forms of centralized power. However, the power of these two central branches is greatly checked by Congress.
The U.S. also operates smaller governments below the federal level. State and local governments function closer to the people and often impact lives more directly than the federal government.
Rebecca Renner is a teacher and college professor from Florida. She loves teaching about literature, and she writes about books for Book Riot, Real Simple, Electric Literature and more.