The Pros and Cons of Federalism Explored

Pros and Cons of Federalis

There are many different types of government systems and ideas that are worth evaluating and understanding. Among these systems and ideas, is the idea of federalism. Federalism is a unique system that is implemented in various countries across the world. Just like every system federalism has its strengths and weaknesses and many should know them to better understand and help improve this system. So, what are the pros and cons of federalism?

There are many advantages of federalism such as the ability to distribute power and allow the needs of students to be met. There are also many disadvantages of federalism such as the lack of cohesion and accountability. These advantages and disadvantages are both present in the system of federalism and require evaluation to see and understand the system.

What is Federalism?

Federalism is a system of government where power and ruling authority is split in two sections between the federal government and the local state government. In order for a country to have a federal system, it must have two sects of government. 

A great example of federalism is found in the United States. The authority of government is split into two sects: 

  1. The federal government and its subdivisions the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.
  2. The individual fifty states and their own government and ruling power. 

Between the two systems they each have their own unique and sovereign powers that they use to implement and regulate rules and guidelines for citizens.  Some examples of the power that the state and federal government have are listed below. 

State Government has the responsibilities and the power to: 

  • Conduct local elections
  • Maintain and build roads
  • Establish guidelines and laws regarding driver’s licenses
  • Govern local education systems and schools

Federal Government has the responsibilities and the power to: 

  • Print money
  • Regulate trade internationally and between states
  • Declare war

As you can see the federal government has command and power of items that serve the national interests, while local governments have command and power of items that serve local interests. 

Related: 4 Key Features of Federalism

Advantages of Federalism

Advantages of Federalism

As a system there are many benefits of federalism. Below are some of the advantages that come from using a federalist system. 

Flexibility In Governing

One of the best advantages that federalism provides is allowing states to have authority and governing power under the federal government. This allows each state to create and tweak laws to best suit their population. 

Each state is influenced greatly by a variety of factors such as population size, economic resources, location, and more. By allowing each state to create their own system of laws and guidelines they are able to rule and run their state in the best way for their population. 

Provides A Balance of Power

Additionally, the ability for each state to create laws and guidelines that best suit them, shows the power that each individual state has. This disbursement of power is a great advantage of federalism. 

Because power is spread out and not at just one level there is a great balance between not just the power of individual states, but a balance between the federal and state government as well. Federalism is a great system to fight against tyranny and dictatorship with power spread between two parties in the federal and state government. 

Allows Citizens Needs to Be Met

If the federal government was the only ruling party one problem that would arise would be  creating laws and ensuring the care of every single citizen. A great benefit of federalism is that by having a local separate ruling body in the individual states, the states are able to meet the needs of the people much better. 

This is due to the fact that the states are closer to the people than the federal government can be. By being closer and being able to focus only on specific groups of people the local government can put extra effort into understanding it’s local citizens and best serving and helping them. 

More Productive Society 

It is much more efficient to have each state or local area have it’s own governing body. If there was only one policy and ruling authority in the federal government, society would be less efficient because the one standard policy may work well for some areas but not work at all for others. With each local area having their own say in how they run, they are able to find out how they work best and create around it to make themselves the most efficient. 

Produces Conflict Management 

It is extremely hard to get a group of people to agree on anything. One can encounter much trouble trying to get a group of people to decide on where to eat dinner, much less agree what is the best way to govern themselves. 

A great advantage of federalism is that it allows citizens to decide how they want to be ruled and where to go to get it. If a person is born in a state but grows to not agree with the way the state is run politically, then that person has the ability to move to another state within the country to find the best governance that he or she agrees with. Due to the variance within many different state and local governments, in a federalist society citizens are able to go to the area that they agree with the best. 

Disadvantages of Federalism

Disadvantages of Federalism

While there are many advantages of federalism, there are many disadvantages as well. Below are a few examples of the problems and issues within the system of federalism.

Power Struggles

Since power is split between two entities in federalism, federal and local, there is a constant tug of war between the power of the local/state government and the larger federal government.

Oftentimes the federal government will find itself against the opinion of a state, or states on an issue. This creates a friction between who can enforce what law and who can prohibit who from vetoing or overriding laws.

The effects of this power struggle between the federal and local government can be brutal. It can cause disunity and prevent advancement for the nation as a whole. One of the best examples of this brutality and disunity was in the American Civil War. Due to disagreements between the power and rights of states the entire United States was split in two and took part in a long bloodied war within the country.

While this civil war may not happen today, there are still many ways that the power struggle between local and federal government can cause disastrous effects.

Easier for Inequality to Arise

A disadvantage of federalism is also the ability for inequality to sprout. Due to their being different laws and guidelines in different states and local areas some areas may flourish while others drown.

If each local area/state had the same amount to fund their education programs then there would be an equally playing field in theory. However because each area has a different amount to spend on their education system some are better than others.

Lack of Cohesion

Probably the biggest disadvantage of federalism that the common person recognizes is the lack of cohesion. Take the United States for example. In the US on a state level for some laws and guidelines there is not one policy that all states adhere to, but fifty different policies. This is very confusing for citizens that move between states.

Problems With Accountability

Another huge disadvantage that is seen in federalism is the problem with assigning accountability between the federal and local level government. When a local area and state is struggling in one aspect it is easy for the local and federal government to point blame at each other instead of actually owning up and figuring out the problem. And the more time fingers are getting pointed the less time is being spent working to fix the problem and provide a solution.

Is Federalism Good or Bad?

While it is very clear that there are many great advantages of federalism, it is also clear that there are many disadvantages as well. There is no definitive answer on whether federalism is good or bad or if it should serve as the definitive way to run a country.

However it is good to evaluate the idea of federalism and see how it can be used for good as well as think about the potential pitfalls of the system and how to avoid and work around them.

What Countries Use Federalism?

What Countries Use Federalism - Mexico

As mentioned above, the United States is a well known example of a country that uses federalism however they are not the only country that does. The system of federalism is used in many countries including Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Malaysia, Switzerland, and Belgium to name a few.  There are also myriad different types of federalism!

Federalism is a System of Highs and Lows

Federalism, like many government ideas and systems, is one of both great strengths and weaknesses. However as we look at the system we want to make sure that we are not overlooking one side in favor of the other. But instead we want to analyze, consider, and evaluate the system as a whole to better know how to better implement it’s strengths and solve it’s weaknesses.

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