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What is the difference between decentralized government and centralized government?

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Quick Answer

The difference between a decentralized and centralized government lies in how power is distributed. In a centralized government, power rests in the hands of a select few while in a decentralized government, it rests in the hands of many.

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Full Answer

Centralization and decentralization are best understood as opposite ends of a spectrum. Few governments are strictly one of the other. Generally, they more centralized a government is, the fewer number of its people have decision-making authority. A dictatorship, for example, is a highly centralized government because it concentrates power in the hand of one person: the dictator. Centralized governments tend to be large and they exercise power over a vast number of people. Because power is so concentrated, it is easily abused. A centralized government can extort taxes or pass unfair laws and suffer little recourse.

In a decentralized government, however, power is dispersed throughout the system. These governments are often made of many small organizations that govern at the local level. Because of their small size, they are more accessible to the citizens, and the people have a direct result on the decision-making process through voting and committees.

Decentralization has its downsides. It is difficult, for example, to pass legislation over a disparate group of people with differing opinions. However, it allows much more transparency than a centralized government, and it works on a system of checks and balances. If one segment of the decentralized government becomes corrupt or ineffective, it is easily ousted, Whereas, if the dictator in a centralized government becomes corrupt, that person is much more difficult to dislodge.

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