8 Far-Reaching Pros and Cons of Federalism

Basically, federalism is a governmental structure and political concept, where people are bound together with a representative leader. It often involves power that is divided constitutionally between separate government units, such as provinces or states. With governing shared between national and state organizations, its distribution of power is greater than other types of localized government. Generally, countries can be broken down into either unitary states or federalism, depending on whether or not power is divided into a more local level.

A great example of a federalist system is the US, there is the national government having the ability to carry out policies, laws and anything that individual states cannot effectively do on their own. Aside from this, the country is also comprised of several states having individual policies and laws with regards to certain things. So, is this government, which we are accustomed to, the best to have? Let us take a closer look at its pros and cons to come up with a well- informed decision.

List of Pros of Federalism

1. It prevents the centralization of power.
Unlike tyranny, where the rule of the many by the few occurs more easily in its unitary governmental system and power is centralized in a single location, a federalist system uses the right of the states to ensure that power will be divided between the overarching government and participating entities all the time. As a result, these two parties should work together to accomplish a certain objective, which makes actual tyranny and centralization of power very difficult to occur.

2. It encourages a greater level of civic participation.
While many people criticize the low turn-out rates in the national and local elections in the US, the federal system on which the country operates does create a surprising amount of activism and local governmental participation, which are rarely seen on the national level. With the substantial level of power given to state and local governments, people would feel closer to the power structure and would be more capable of making important changes when it is necessary. From activism by individuals to state-wide and non-profit organizations, officials and citizens will be brought closer to the power with federalism in place. Moreover, many bigger national organizations can jump-start on the state or local level and eventually rise up to national prominence when their missions’ importance becomes known across the whole country.

3. It makes it easier to create tailored laws.
Sometimes, national laws do not work across the entire country. In the US, certain laws, like those governing fishing, hunting and mining, might work fantastically in one state, but would be completely impractical, useless or even dangerous in another. Unlike a unitary state governmental structure, a federalist system allows each individual state to create specific laws that can be applied to the conditions and setting that the state finds itself in. Because of this, laws can be meaningful and direct to serve a greater purpose to the citizens in the state. Furthermore, passing laws on the local level can significantly be easier than doing it on the national level, which should addressing, debating and ratifying of the laws quicker.

4. It encourages research on good policy.
States and local governments as a whole are seen as amazing experimenting grounds for democracy in a federal form of government. For example, countless states are devising their own laws with regards the regulating controlled substances, where each state are having slightly different languages in their laws, which yield different results. If the national government wants to adopt the best possible law, it just has to look at the individual states and see what law is effectively working. A great example of this process was the creation of the Affordable Care Act, where Massachusetts’ statewide health care system was adopted to create the national health care law.

List of Cons of Federalism

1. It can create issues with overlapping jurisdiction.
If you ask the national government about the legality of marijuana, then it considers it a Schedule 1 Substance (the most harmful and worst of all) and not helpful medically or legally under any condition. In fact, many individuals have been jailed for possessing or trying to sell the drug. However, a few states, such as Colorado, have made marijuana perfectly legal to have, sell, buy and ingest. So, is it legal or illegal? With a federalist form of government, this type of overlapping jurisdiction in certain laws can lead to confusion and even a break-down of order.

2. It can create cross-border conflicts.
With federalism, there is always the possibility that individual provinces or states will compete against one another. For example, there is a huge deal of competition among states in the US for business, where it is a common practice for them to try and poach businesses from each other, enticing them to relocate for special perks, such as better taxes. While this practice might help the state in question, it hurts the citizens of the country as a whole and does nothing for its betterment.

3. It hinders national policy.
While a federalist government allows the effective passage of laws on a state level, this slows down passing of other laws on the national level. As mentioned above, the Affordable Care Act was a landmark legislation that was designed to address the failing health care standards throughout the country. Whatever opinion you have about this act, it is clearly known that it took decades for the legislation to be enacted.

4. It raises greater ignorance on larger issues.
By creating national and state governments, there is a huge possibility that ignorance with regards to national issues would build up. On the other hand, a unitary governmental structure would allow individuals to express what they think about national issues.


So, our federalist form of government has several pros. However, do they outweigh the cons? On your end and based on the lists given above, do you think that federalism is the best political system?