15.03.2019 in Law
Federal Government

Currently, the United States of America is ruled by a federal system where power is shared between the State governments and that of the central Federal Government of the United States. Caught in the shift between dual federalism to associative federalism, both the central government and the state governments continue to play distinct roles as trustees as well as agents of the US people. It has gone a notch higher by creating a scenario where if any of the government structure feels that ‘Its people” have been mistreated by the other, they can seek redress using the other government. As things are today, it is only the central government which enjoys certain rights as provided for in the constitution. These rights include the rights to declare war, levy taxes and regulate international business/foreign commerce. When the Federal party of the US was dissolved in 1824 after a severe opposition from democratic-republicans, the issues of contention were that first, it had centralized power and as such could easily go unchecked. The other objection leading to its dissolution was that because the executive branch wielded so much power, there was a possibility of creating a scenario where a dictator could easily emerge.  It is therefore likely that if the country were to be ruled by a unitary system where the federal government holds all the powers, the government is likely to be very slow due to the bureaucracy that would characterize the delivery of services. The system therefore is likely to be very complicated and even legalistic.

A unitary government system is where the authority is concentrated at the central government. Unitary systems operate like local governments and most of the times they have the powers to alter or even abolish several structures within government. It is therefore very likely that when the country adopts a unitary system, the central government would quite easily manipulate policies without putting into consideration the unique needs of different states.  Without a system of devolving functions and roles to some of the grass root systems, there is bound to be a small disconnect in both service delivery as well as coordination of state functions. Some of the worst stories of dictatorship and total disregard for both the rule of law and the democratic tenets have exhibited themselves in countries and states with unitary government systems. The constitution which the 55 founding fathers wrote is not easy to modify, that is why the US constitution is one of the oldest in the world today. The roles played by the federal central government and states are clearly spelled out and that each of the states should exercise some element of autonomy.  It would probably be very difficult to all of a sudden change the system of governance from federal to unitary due to the confusion and legal technicalities that would surround it. With a unitary system, it would be very easy to reverse the gains that have been made especially on the rights of slaves, racially sensitive and other important policies like that on guns. Local issues which were initially taken care of would be fast forgotten.


The unitary government would be concerned not by the plight of s specific people but for every citizen.  The enacted laws would therefore be mostly only those that have a national outlook hence throwing away the opportunity of using state governments to formulate laws that suit the people of a specific state.  The unitary system would not only be less effective in the areas highlighted but it would also be challenging America’s core values of liberty in terms of freedoms of association and speech. With this it would be less democratic since it would be separating people’s voices from major decisions since there is only one centre of power which is concerned about every citizen and not a specific state.

If a unitary system were to be adopted, it would be effective on having a single and most effective legislative and executive institution. This would further translate into a more efficient use of the tax payers’ money since less people would be getting in on it. It would also achieve efficient use of resources by putting in a place a leaner government structure that is sensitive to the hard economic times we are currently going through. The issues that affect minority groups can never be understood properly unless the leadership and institutions of empowerment come close to them. It is therefore very likely that a unitary system would work towards excluding the minority from national issues and in having their say on the issues affecting them. If it could have been the reverse, i.e. the conversion from unitary to federal government, the conformity costs would have gone higher due to the establishment of new institutions to take care of the new states. In this scenario however, it would be cheaper to adopt a unitary system, in terms of conformity costs.

Based on my assessments of the two forms of governments, I totally disagree with the critic that a unitary system is what is needed to solve the problems that the government is currently experiencing. This is based on a cost-benefit analysis of both systems as well as the foundational principles like the constitution and commonly held American values.  Even if the unitary system were to take the form where devolution has been done, the central government would retain all the powers and hence the ability to dismiss or override all the policies or duties performed by the devolved units. The resultant effect would be clashes between the central government and the devolved units since all of them are not autonomous the way it is in the current Centralized Federal government.

Related essays