All countries on Earth have different political experiences. They are a result of different political ideologies and governments. There have been democracies, monarchies, oligarchies, and dictatorships. These governments have also been fascist, communist, socialist, and liberal. One of these ideologies is federalism. Like any other system, it has its own advantages and disadvantages. So let us explore them.
WHAT IS IT?
Federalism is the mixed or compound mode of government, combining a general government with regional governments in a single political system. This general government is also known as the central or “federal” government. The regional government can be provincial, state, cantonal, territorial, or other sub-unit governments. Federalism can thus be defined as a form of government in which there is a division of powers between two levels of government of equal status. A federation is different from a confederalism, which is a system of union of sovereign groups or states, united for purposes of common action.
The level of power that the federal government confers upon its states differs according to context. USA is a federation of states giving its constituents the power to secede. India, on the other hand, is an indestructible union of destructible states. Therein, the center has the power to change the specifics of the boundaries of the state.
India follows a federal government system. So do the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Argentina, and Australia.
Advantages of Federalism
This is one of the biggest advantages of federalism. As a structure, it ensures two levels of government. These are the national level and regional level governments. What this does is that it ensures that no one person has control over the entire nation. This helps to maintain the security of the nation. It spreads the national government’s power amongst different levels. It also serves as a check and balance system for all levels of the government. This also ensures that no authoritarian or tyrannical leader can cause ruckus across the entire country.
History has showcased that undue centralization of power has created tyrannical despots. Their streak of authoritarianism has led to bloodshed and dismantling of institutional processes. The reason why Hitler was able to run roughshod over the levels of authority was because of the excessive centralization of power. The current anti-CAA protests in India have been facilitated because of various state governments exercising their power of dissent against the decree of the center.
All democracies strive to be as close to its citizens as possible. The founding principle behind democracy was to put the decision making power in the hands of the people. However, with time and the growth of representative democracy, this power has shifted from the hands of the masses to the coterie of select few individuals.
In that scenario, federalism becomes a saving grace by ensuring an equitable distribution of power among the various levels of the government. It literally brings the power in the hands of the people. In countries like India, this has translated itself in the form of local government systems like the Panchayats.
Efficient Decision Making
Decision making is more efficient when done by the people who understand the nuances of the problem at hand. Many of the times a centralized decision-making body finds itself detached from the ground realities. In cases like these, the local government, which is much more closer to ground zero can formulate the requisite laws and policies.
This also provides the process of a fair degree of flexibility, so that the solutions can be tailor-made to suit the particulars of the situation.
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Countries like India see a great deal of diversity and plurality. Obviously, not all the constituents will look eye to eye. In other words, this means that conflicts are rampant. The process of federalism provides an efficient mechanism for conflict management. It ensures that the different states don’t have to deal with each other while taking decisions that are internal to them. The chances of conflicts are henceforth drastically reduced.
Innovations in Policy
When multiple minds work towards framing policies, it leads to multiple ideas. In that scenario, the idea that is found to be the most competent can be readily implemented. In fact, different states can adopt ideas from each other to counter similar solutions. For example, the Delhi Government’s health and education policies are being looked up to as a model mechanism by states facing similar problems.
Disadvantages of Federalism
Can Propagate Evil Practices
Dysfunctional states can continue to propagate ill-conceived policies and malpractices, citing independence. Thus, in a strongly federalist union, it might become impossible for the central government to check up on rogue states. In fact, this has a past history of excesses. In the USA, federalism was one of the reasons why the practice of slavery and segregation could not be done away with in some states, despite a national consensus.
Inequalities between States
Modern democracies are based on the political party system. More often than not, political parties that are dominant at the center also find significance at the state level. Thus, if a party is ruling at the center, it might appropriate more funds to states that are also ruled by it. Similarly, state governments where the national opposition is in power might refuse to apply the policies of the center. For example, the Republican Party is in power at the center, and Democratic Party rules the state of California. Because of conflicting opinions between the two parties, the state’s welfare may be hampered.
Creates Oppositional Competition
Some states like to keep certain demographics out of their territory, They do that especially with poor and marginalized communities. This allows them to reduce the amount of welfare work that the state has to do. In a bid to become unattractive for poor people, states indulge in oppositional competition, reducing the amount of welfare benefits offered to disenfranchised citizens. In fact, in the US, most states tend to offer significant tax breaks in order to attract corporations with hefty bank accounts.
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Creates Bureaucratic Hurdles
With an increase in the levels of government, there is a proportionate increase in bureaucratic positions and the amount of documentation required. This means in situations of natural calamities or disasters, the affected people might have to run from one office to another to understand whether the assistance that is due to them is to be received from the state or the center. This, therefore, significantly increases the process of transferring the benefits to individuals who need them the most.
Late Response to Issues of National Importance
Some issues, like the Great Depression, require immediate attention through an integrated national policy. In a federal system, this might not be possible due to multiple checks and balances. President Roosevelt’s efforts to combat the scourge of the Great Depression were initially struck down by the Supreme Court. To quote recent examples, President Barack Obama’s efforts to make an accessible health insurance policy were legally challenged by various states.
This can prove disastrous when the lives of millions of people are at stake. Petty politics institutionalizes itself in the form of federal structures. Unhealthy competition between political parties is the major impediment that has certainly been a sore thumb in the history of federalism.
However, all of these disadvantages cannot take away from the fact that federalism is one of the most innovative and efficient political systems. More and more nations are now looking to make their democracies more representative of the will of the people by adopting federalism.
Pros and Cons of Federalism
Can propagate evil practices
|Inequalities between states|
|Efficient decision making||
Creates oppositional competition
|Creates bureaucratic hurdles|
|Innovations in policy||
Late response to issues of national importance