Monday, June 30, 2008

The Federalist 14 and Decentralizaton

In the Federalist 14, Madison argues that while direct democracy is possible only in a small country, a republic can cover a larger geographic area. Based on the transportation available in the 1780s, he shows that a federal republican form of government is possible since the delegates can travel the distance required. He adds that:

"It is to be remembered that the federal government is not to be charged with the whole power of making and administering laws. Its jurisdiction is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern all the members of the republic, but which are not to be attained by the separate provisions of any. The subordinate governments, which can extend their care to all those other objects which can be separately provided for, will retain their due authority and activity. Were it proposed by the plan of the convention to abolish the governments of the particular States, its adversaries would have some ground for their objection; though it would not be difficult to show that if they were abolished the general government would be compelled by the principle of self-preservation to reinstate them in their proposed jurisdiction."

Madison's recognition of the principle of decentralization anticipated the evolution of large scale corporate enterprise in the twentieth century. In his classic book Strategy and Structure, Alfred Chandler argues that big business evolved from the functional into the decentralized form in the twentieth century in response to strategic shifts, notably the concentration of industry and the formation of conglomerates. The reason the decentralized form was necessary was that the informational demands and transactions costs of a large organization inhibit intelligent processing. Madison anticipated this development in the 18th century.

The information demands of government are greater than the informational demands of private industry. The flexibility required is greater and the scope of the market is greater, which implies the need for greater diversity of strategy. Yet, the modernist or progressive approach to organizing government has been to centralize decision making authority. This runs counter to the insight not only of Madison but of practical business strategists who have learned that efficiency as well as responsive, flexible strategy depend on integration of small scale with large scale and the loose coupling of federal and local units.

No comments: