The Architecture of Government

Rethinking Political Decentralization

The Architecture of Government

Since the days of Montesquieu and Jefferson, political decentralization has been seen as a force for better government and economic performance. It is thought to bring government 'closer to the people', nurture civic virtue, protect liberty, exploit local information, stimulate policy innovation, and alleviate ethnic tensions. Inspired by such arguments, and generously funded by the major development agencies, countries across the globe have been racing to devolve power to local governments. This book re-examines the arguments that underlie the modern faith in decentralization. Using logical analysis and formal modeling, and appealing to numerous examples, it shows that most are based on vague intuitions or partial views that do not withstand scrutiny. A review of empirical studies of decentralization finds these as inconclusive and mutually contradictory as the theories they set out to test.


"This superb book deconstructs political decentralization. Shifting power from central to local governments is widely touted as the key instrument for the creation of effective, responsive government. The evidence does not support these claims, argues Treisman. Using game theory to probe the logic of arguments, and empirical research to test them, Treisman challenges the assumptions that underlie much of the common wisdom being disseminated to guide the design of public institutions. This book needs to be read by policy makers and researchers, from the World Bank to constitution writers and politically engaged citizens the world around."
Peter Gourevitch, University of California, San Diego