Authority and social learning in a supple state
Jean-Paul Faguet, Ashley M. Fox Caroline Pöschl
We examine how decentralization
affects four key aspects of state strength: (i) Authority over territory and
conflict prevention, (ii) Policy autonomy and the ability to uphold the law,
(iii) Responsive, accountable service provision, and (iv) Social learning. We provide specific reform paths that should
lead to strengthening in each.
Decentralizing below the level of social cleavages should drain
secessionist pressure by peeling away moderate citizens from radical leaders.
The regional specificity of elite interests is key. If regional elites have more to lose than
gain from national schism, they will not invest in politicians and conflicts
that promote secession. Strong
accountability mechanisms and national safeguards of minority rights can align
local leaders’ incentives with citizens’, so promoting power-sharing and
discouraging local capture or oppression.
“Fragmentation of authority” is a mistaken inference; what
decentralization really does is transform politics from top-down to bottom-up,
embracing many localities and their concerns.
The state moves from a simpler, brittler command structure to one based
on overlapping authority and complex complementarity, where government is more
robust to failure in any of its parts. Well-designed reform, focusing on
services with low economies of scale, with devolved taxation and bail-outs
prohibited, should increase public accountability. Lastly, by allowing citizens to become
political actors in their own right, the small scale of local politics should
promote social learning-by-doing, so strengthening political legitimacy,
state-building, and ‘democratic suppleness’ from the grass-roots upwards.
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