State and Local Government
What is Federalism?
The United States has one of the most complicated forms of government in the world. With many levels and subdivisions, this form of government is called federalism. Within the United States, federalism is marked by a continuous change in the system of connections between the national, state, and local governments. At times, the different levels of government act independently and at other times, the levels became so entangled that it becomes impossible to tell apart the responsibilities of one from the other. Federalism is just one of the three main systems of power used by the United States.
There are two ways, other than pure federalism, to organize power among national and regional governments. Pure federalism is also known as a federal system. In a federal system, the central and regional governments are divided in power and responsibilities, and the governments do not depend on each other for their power. Voters elect candidates into both the regional and central levels within a federal system allowing the United States to have a representative government, meaning that people elect representatives to legislate on their behalf. Another system of government is the unitary system. In a unitary system, power is concentrated in the central government. The central government then grants special powers to the regional governments. Voters elect people into the central government and then the central government assigns people to the regional governments. France’s government is an example of a unitary system. The third system of government is the confederal system or confederacy. In a confederacy, power is concentrated more in the regional governments than the central government. Voters elect people into the independent regional governments and then these independent regional governments grant legal authority to the central government. An example of a confederal system would be the Confederate States of America.
The federal system describes the system of power that the United States has. This means that the regional governments (states and localities) and the central (national) government are independent equals. Because of this, the federal system allows for these regional governments to experiment with policy. These experimental acts by the regional governments give them the label of laboratories of democracy. However, for some years now, federalism has been linked with the concept of devolution. Devolution is the process of powers and responsibilities being taken from the national government and given to the state governments, which clearly goes against the “independent equals” idea in federalism because states are gaining more power. This could be a result of the states abusing their power of experimenting with policy. Although states might abuse their power of experimenting, the actual practice of experimenting is considered an advantage.
Experimenting is one of the many advantages of federalism. Federalism allows for flexibility among state laws and institutions as well as reduces complications because the states are able to accommodate citizens’ interests, which is shown by how much easier trade is now. Another advantage of federalism is that it enables the achievement of national goals, which is shown when the goal of creating an interstate highway system was achieved in the 1950s. Although federalism is full of advantages, it comes with a price.
Unfortunately, federalism increases complexity and confusion, which could be a great inconvenience for people. Federalism can cause confusion between state and federal governments because of the vagueness of the exact division of powers among them. Federalism promotes the duplication of efforts and the reduction of accountability. It also makes it difficult to coordinate, which is shown when police or fire departments in different cities or states can’t communicate with each other. This was...
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