chapter  4
Making states work: The variety of local state systems
Pages 18

The national area of all states is politically subdivided for one reason or another, be it administrative convenience, ideological reasons associated with a desire to promote local democracy, ease of economic management, or any of a host of other reasons. Yet, whatever the logic, as Thomas Hobbes pointed out so acerbically over three centuries ago, the people who are governed always tend to feel let down by those in power who rule their lives. As a result, there is almost always an ongoing process of change, in that changing political, economic, and social circumstances demand that the infrastructure of the local state be continually updated and revised. Against this inbuilt dynamism, the constitutional terms under which the local state was initially constructed, popular attachment to existing structures, and vested political interests combine to bolster the status quo, slowing down, and even denying, the inevitable necessity to adapt (Kumar, 1988). In some countries adaptation has been almost continuous. Romania, for example, underwent a dozen different administrative reforms in the first half-century after its foundation as a modern state in 1919, reflecting the turbulent political history in the period (Helin, 1967). Elsewhere, as in the USA for example, change has been much more evolutionary, with basic federal

administrative divisions being slow to alter, except to accommodate shifts in the distribution of population and new states joining the union (Brunn, 1974). The most stable local state systems are those formally specified in a constitution. In the US Constitution or the German Grundgesetz the structure of local government within the federal state is clearly defined, along with the separation of powers between the different levels of government within the federation. Foreign policy, overall economic management, and the highest courts are almost always matters for the central state, but matters such as education and the provision of many other services are usually the statutory responsibility of the lower levels of government. The central state can only intervene in these matters when a dispute arises about the competence of a particular level to act in given circumstances.