Federalism and unitary government
Definition: all powers are concentrated in a central (national) government. Powers of local units are derived from the central government.
Examples: France, Great Britain, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Chile.
Definition: Powers are shared between a central government and constituent units, such as states or provinces.
Examples: US, Canada, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, India.
The structure of federalism under the US Constitution:
Enumerated powers for the national government (Article I section 8)
Powers denied the Congress (Article I section 9)
Powers denied to the states (Article I section 10)
Relations among the states, and provision for addition (but not subtraction) of states (Article IV)
Federal supremacy (Article VI)
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." (Amendment X)
How much of what the US federal government does today
could be justified by a literal reading of the Constitution?
The practical answer depends on the Supreme Court, because of judicial review.
See for starters McCulloch v. Maryland (1819). Implied powers to create a national bank, federal supremacy and the power to tax.
The argument of Federalist #10: A government designed
to cure the "mischiefs of faction,"
Where faction is defined as "a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community."
Method I: remove the causes of faction
a. destroy liberty
remedy worse than the disease.
b. give every citizen the same opinions, passions and intersts.
Method II: control the effects of faction.
a. the republican principle of delegation to representatives.
will "refine and enlarge the public views"
trustee rather than delegate.
note the agency problem.
b. a large population and a large territory
hard for unworthy candidates to practice the vicious arts
does this count for much in a world of mass communication?
Federalism and democracy
a. Federalism as enhancing democracy
When preferences are locally homogeneous, allowing local
majorities to prevail can maximize the satisfaction of preferences. Consider
the following two distributions of a nation of 25 people in five "states"
making a collective decision by majority rule.
If the decision is made on the national level, 13 people
get what they want, while 12 do not.
However, if the decision is decentralized to the states, 23 people get what they want and only two do not.
But the distribution of people among states may not be
nearly so homogeneous:
In this distribution, 15 people get what they want and 10 do not when the decision is decentralized.
Issues to consider for one uniform national rule vs. state
by state choice:
School vouchers, speed limits, lotteries, liquor laws, school prayer, abortion, the death penalty, etc.
b. Federalism as undermining democracy
Most federal systems have an upper house legislature that
is based in territorial units rather than population, like the US Senate.
California's population is 66 times as great as Wyoming's, but each state has equal representation in the Senate.
In Brazil, the ratio is 144 to 1, whereas in Germany it is 13 to 1.
In some federal systems the territorially based upper house has less power than the popularly based lower house, but not in the US.
September 26, 2000
Separation of powers and parliamentary government
Definition: fused and concentrated legislative and executive powers. The people choose the legislature, and the legislature chooses the executive.
Examples: Great Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Japan.
Three alternative conditions for parliamentary government:
If there is a single majority party in the legislature (more than half the seats), that party forms the government by itself. For example, the British House of Commons usually has a single party in the majority. The Labour government of Tony Blair is basically the leadership of the Labour Party. Similarly for the Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher.
If there is no single majority party in the legislature, a coalition government may form in order to secure a majority of seats. For example, in Germany, there have been coalitions between the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats. There is now a coalition between the Social Democrats and the Green party.
A minority government may form if no single party has a majority, and no coalition is feasible. This often happens in Canada.
In parliamentary governments:
Single party majority governments occur .134 of the time
Multiparty coalition majority governments occur .500 of the time
Single party minority governments occur .238 of the time
(And multiparty minority coalitions occur .128 of the time.)
(See p. 440 in Shepsle and Bonchek)
Electoral terms in parliamentary democracies
A government can fall before the end of an electoral term for lack of parliamentary support, for example on losing a "vote of confidence."
If a government falls, there are two possibilities: either call a new election, or try to form another government that will command a majority.
Strategy and "endogenous elections." In most parliamentary
democracies, the government can call an election at the time of its choosing,
so long as it does not wait beyond a full term.
Countries with endogenous elections: Great Britain, India.
Definition: legislative and executive powers are separately chosen, and divided.
Examples: United States, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela.
Even if the same sovereign people are choosing of presidents
and legislatures at the same time, it is possible, and even likely, that
the results will have different political flavors.
Examples: 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1996 presidential elections produced divided government. Since 1968, only the elections of 1976 and 1992 have not produced divided government.
Is divided government intended by the people? By the framers?
Electoral terms in presidential democracies: the electoral
calendar is usually fixed (exogenous).
(Would we have gone through an impeachment trial if the electoral calendar was fixed?)
The concept of a "veto player" unites the study
of parliamentary and presidential systems.
A veto player is an individual or a collective actor whose agreement is required for a change in the status quo.
In the US, the House and the Senate are veto players.
The president is a veto player unless 2/3 of the Senate and House agree to override his veto.
In a parliamentary system with a single majority party, that party is a veto player.
In a parliamentary system with a coalition government, each party in that coalition is a veto player.