Fake decentralization

A very under-appreciated fact: developing countries keep cutting themselves into smaller units. Half of African countries have increased their districts by at least a fifth. Brazil, Indonesia, and Hungary have by 50%.  Is decentralization bring power to the people?

A new paper by Grossman and Lewis, coming out in next month’s APSR:

…although the proliferation of administrative units often accompanies or follows far-reaching decentralization reforms, it likely results in a recentralization of power; the proliferation of new local governments fragments existing units into smaller ones with lower relative intergovernmental bargaining power and administrative capacity. We find support for these arguments using original data from Uganda.

What’s an instinctively authoritarian guy to do when his country democratizes? Divide and conquer.

I hereby propose we cut all US House of Representatives districts in six, but leave the Senate be.

2 thoughts on “Fake decentralization

  1. I guess it’s not surprising that I saw the title here and immediately thought Uganda. I’m gonna cite my undergraduate self:

    decentralizing governance allowed the NRM “to sideline political parties, the traditional chiefs, and the majority ethnic groups … that wanted autonomous status” (Azfar et al. 224). The decentralized structures allowed the NRM to exercise power at every level without alienating citizens by appearing to impose governance from afar (Azfar et al. 224). Since coming to power, the government has consistently increased the number of local government units, arguing that this helps bringing government closer to the people (Kavuma). Critics have interpreted this as an example of patronage politics at work, as a larger number of districts results in more jobs and a greater spread of resources (Lambright 150).

    anecdotal evidence from speaking to an Ugandan acquaintance suggests this is not too uncommon a thought.

  2. Doesn’t cite any of the empire literature? No Barkey? Motyl? :-( This isn’t exactly a new mechanism for authoritarian control. But, as with all such complaints, doesn’t really detract from the paper itself.