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Isabel Rodríguez Tejedo, School of Economics and Business Administration, University of Navarra, Spain

Lights and shadows

Sat, 18 Jun 2011 10:44:38 +0000 Published in La Razón (Madrid)

Taifa kingdoms, unchecked mini-states, gremlins of power, and more. Listening to some opinions it would seem that we woke up one morning and suddenly communities are waiting for us at our doorstep (surprise, surprise) with a bag of problems on their backs and not a single redeeming quality.

And it is not that there are no clear mistakes from design: it does not make sense to plague the map with different administrative regulations that hinder the simplest procedures, nor to create seventeen labor markets. Nor is it clear that the loss of economies of scale in some areas will be offset by better service. Gentlemen, decentralization is not this. Or at least, it is not only this. Decentralization does not mean repeating functions, duplicating positions and multiplying the issue of advisors and other minions of power. Adjusting preferences does not mean a multitude of unproductive expenses. To govern means to spend, but also to collect and manage, and to do it well. In fairness, there is blame to share. The deficit of responsibility is inherited from a system in which the State guarded, perhaps too jealously, the power to collect and distribute.

And although we have made progress in fiscal co-responsibility, the ways of doing things take time to change. It would not be fair to condemn now a model that, although it has its problems, has also generated substantial social and economic benefits. The system has potential advantages, including the possibility of favoring innovation, better citizen control of the public sector and a more precise adjustment to local preferences. Cultural, historical and linguistic promotion policies, close counseling, educational coordination, prioritization of expense in infrastructures... there is much that can be done. Wherever possible, land policy and administration have undeniable advantages, but perhaps it is time to approach a more rational and balanced model .