Devolution in the United States: Rhetoric and Reality

John Kincaid

in The Federal Vision

Published in print November 2001 | ISBN: 9780199245000
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599996 | DOI:
 Devolution in the United States: Rhetoric and Reality

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Critically examines the fashionable notion that the steady trajectory of USA federalism in recent decades has been in the direction of decentralization or devolution; the case made rests above all on the pervasiveness of concurrency: ‘All public functions are likely to involve intergovernmental power‐sharing in one way or another . . . The centralization that has occurred in the USA has rarely involved wholesale federal occupation of policy fields . . . often in a positive‐sum manner in which there is a concomitant expansion of State and/or local government powers’. In this context, so‐called devolution in the USA has been far from a wholesale transfer of power but rather a series of halfway measures. More importantly, if legitimacy has not been enhanced through outright devolution—presumably an unachievable first‐best in the author's view—then ‘issues of process’ are vital. That is the legitimacy of the norms, institutions, and mechanisms that allow constant adjustment of roles and responsibilities between levels of government in response to changing circumstances and changing citizen preferences. The four sections of the chapter look in turn at definitions of devolution, explanations for the disjunction between devolution, rhetoric and devolution reality in the USA, devolution politics, and the implications for the EU.

Keywords: centralization; decentralization; devolution politics; devolution reality; devolution rhetoric; EU; federalism; governance; legitimacy; USA

Chapter.  6844 words. 

Subjects: European Union

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