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Is Decentralization Good For Development?Perspectives from Academics and Policy Makers$
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Jean-Paul Faguet and Caroline Pöschl

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198737506

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198737506.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 03 December 2021

Does Decentralization Strengthen or Weaken the State?

Does Decentralization Strengthen or Weaken the State?

Authority and Social Learning in a Supple State

(p.129) 6 Does Decentralization Strengthen or Weaken the State?
Is Decentralization Good For Development?

Jean-Paul Faguet

Ashley M. Fox

Caroline Pöschl

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines 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. The chapter provides 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.

Keywords:   decentralization, state strength, fragile states, social learning, accountability, political legitimacy, elite capture, secession, subnational governance, conflict prevention

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