Defining and Measuring Decentralization: A Global Perspective
As scores of countries have introduced plans to devolve powers and resources from central to subnational governments in recent decades, the causes and consequences of political decentralization have caught the interest of political economists. This paper attempts to provide some conceptual foundations and to survey some data useful for exploring these topics. I propose basic terminology for talking about the vertical structure of states, and define six conceptions of decentralization. I use a newly assembled data set that includes up to 166 countries to examine how these six types of decentralization varied across countries in the mid-1990s. I then investigate how these forms of decentralization correlate with various country characteristics—their size, level of ethnolinguistic division, colonial history, economic development, and degree of democracy. Finally, I consider the relationship between federalism and decentralization.