Advantages and Disadvantages of Federalism

Advantagesand Disadvantages of Federalism

Federalismis a structure of governance in which a particular area is ruled bytwo levels of power. The national government handles issues thataffect the whole country while lower levels of government handleissues that affect local areas (Zimmerman, 2009). A good example ofthis system of governance is the United States. The nationalgovernment rules over the whole country while each state has a stategovernment that handles its affairs. In federalism, both levels havethe power to make laws for governing their areas of jurisdiction.Federalism has both advantages and disadvantages in countries whereit is practiced and striking a balance between the two is the key toensuring its smooth operation. This paper seeks to explore thebenefits and drawbacks of federalism and make a recommendation for anon-federal country.

KeyFeatures of Federalism

Federalismsystem of governance has several key features that make it differentfrom other systems of governance (Kincaid, 2011). There are twolevels of administration, namely the nationwide level, and the locallevel. Each level of government has authority over the samecivilians, but each level has its mandate to handle specific mattersof law making, taxation and administration. The roles of each tierare explicitly outlined in the constitution. Consequently, thepresence and scope of influence of each level is safeguarded by theConstitution.

Thetask of interpreting the constitution in case of disputes between thetwo levels of government is the responsibility of the courts. Onelevel of government cannot change the key provisions of theconstitution. To make such changes, both tiers must give consent tothe intended changes (Zimmerman, 2009). Lastly, each level ofgovernment has its revenue sources accurately specified by theconstitution to safeguard its financial independence.

Advantagesof Federalism

Federalismhas several advantages in countries that practice it. First, itfacilitates the sharing of power between the national government andstate governments. This allotment of authority is governed by theconstitution to ensure that the jurisdiction of each level ofgovernment is clearly outlined to avoid conflicts (Holdstedt, 2006).This situation facilitates the diffusion of power from the nationallevel to the local level. When power is not concentrated in oneperson or level, chances of it being abused or misused aresignificantly reduced. As a result, vices like corruption and misuseof power are reduced.

Federalismincreases the participation of citizens in matters of governance,both at the local and national level (Zimmerman, 2009). Federalismdecentralizes power from the national government and shares it withstate governments. State governments are closer to common citizensthan the national government. As a result, citizens have a level ofgovernment that they can easily access and engage in matters thatconcern them. In this way, federalism boosts the participation ofcitizens in governance by taking the state level of government closerto them.

Theother benefit that comes with federalism is conflict management andresolution. The state government gives local communities and statesthe power and means to make their laws and policies. As Zimmerman(2009) notes, people’s interests, cultures, and political viewschange from state to state. As a result, governing all states withone set of rules and policies becomes difficult. This is wherefederalism steps in and saves the situation. Each state makes lawsand policies suited to its people’s situations. This customizationof laws to suit the need of local communities reduces conflicts thatmay arise from governing all states using similar rules, as is thecase where there is the only level of government.

Federalismcreates a setup in which addressing the needs of citizens is easier,faster and adequate (Holdstedt, 2006). The two levels of governmentcreated by federalism take governance closer to citizens through thestate government. Since the state government is close to itscitizens, it makes it easy for the citizens to hand over theirgrievances for deliberation. National governments handle many issueson a national scale. Therefore, it is the state government that hasbetter chances of handling issues for citizens. State governmentshave a higher probability of listening to citizen needs and actingaccordingly than the national government.

Lastly,federalism serves as a measure to prevent dictatorship. Itaccomplishes this objective in two ways. First, it shares power andgovernance jurisdiction between the national and the stategovernments. This situation ensures that power is not concentratedin one person or one level of government, reducing chances of misuseof power or tyranny. Secondly, federalism has checks balances aimedat ensuring that none of the levels abuses its power. In these twoways, federalism serves the purpose of preventing a tyrannicalgovernment.

Disadvantagesof Federalism

Despiteits numerous advantages, federalism on the flip side has somedrawbacks that water down its benefits. First, it creates a vacuumthat allows local leaders to frustrate the making and implementationof national policies. State leaders can make it difficult for thenational government to implement certain policies in their statesbased on political or personal interests. These policies can includecivil rights policies and policies in other key sectors such asenergy, poverty, and environmental protection (Kincaid, 2011). Inthis way, it becomes clear that state governments can abuse the powerthey have in a bid to frustrate policies from the nationalgovernment.

Federalismcomes as a disadvantage in economically vulnerable states. Suchstates lack the capacity to provide their citizens with crucialservices such as education, health, and social welfare (Zimmerman,2009). Other areas where weak state governments may have challengesproviding for their citizens include police protection and protectionof the environment. Compared to wealthy states, poor states will havemajor difficulties in formulating and implementing key governancepolicies as well as providing its citizens with essential services.

Federalismcan be abused by states to allow people with special interests tosafeguard their privileges. Some states have been seen to use theirrights as an excuse to evade national laws and policies that theyfeel are working against their interests. For instance, as Zimmerman(2009) argues, some states use their rights to promote racism in thepretext of fighting racial discrimination. Lastly, federalism createsuneven in government earning and expenditure. Some states spend morethan others while other states do not even charge income tax on theircitizens. Federalism in this aspect creates inequality in how statescollect and spend their revenue.


Federalism,through the two levels of government it creates, comes with a fairshare of benefits and drawbacks. It has several advantages thatinclude prevention of tyranny, decentralization of power and improvedcitizen participation. Its drawbacks include uneven state expenditureand frustration of national policies. For a non-federal, I wouldrecommend a federal government but with well spelled out checks andbalances to address the loopholes that come with federalism forinstance abuse of state rights by state governments. Addressing theseadvantages will enable the country to enjoy the benefits offederalism while at the same time avoiding its disadvantages.


Holdstedt,M. V. (2006). Federalism:History and current issues.New York: Novinka Books.

Kincaid,J. (2011). Federalism.London: SAGE.

Zimmerman,J. F. (2009). ContemporaryAmerican federalism.State University of New York Press.