Federalism & Accountability

This week, we continue with Part 4 of 4: the pros and cons of federalism in relation to other ways of arranging governments. If you want to go back to read the earlier material, or get everything in one gulp, you can click here.

Some forms of federalism can make some aspects of accountability easier.  Under dual federalism, voters, bloggers, and reporters can see the actions of state and local officials more easily than they can for leaders in a national government.  They also feel the consequences of those actions more directly.  Conversely, candidates for state and local offices must reside in their state and local voting districts and must answer to the voters there – in contrast to officials in unitary systems who could come from anywhere and answer only to the higher officials who appoint them.

Federalism can also make accountability more difficult. That difficulty arises when citizens are confused about who to hold accountable for policy failures.  This difficulty happens when citizens do not have good knowledge of which government is responsible for specific services and whether other government arenas are involved.  Many citizens incorrectly think that the federal government does it all, or at least directs it all.  That sort of outcome is more likely under cooperative and coercive aspects of federalism than dual federalism.

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