Decentralization and Corruption in Alabama

This is a great article on the sources of corruption in Alabama.

Of course, the main part that interested me was the stuff on over-centralization.

The legacy of centralization is closely related to Alabama’s recent scandals, not just those in Birmingham. In most states, if a lobbying group wishes to gain influence, they not only lobby in the capital, but they must also go to areas where they hope to work and lobby the mayor, the county commissioner, and other local officials to gain their favor. In Alabama, only Montgomery’s voice matters, leading to a city populated by special interests. Mike Hubbard used this centralized system of favors and kickbacks for his own material gain.

This shows how a centralized system is more fragile to being taken over by special interests. They can buy less people in order to have their will enacted.

The centralization is also closely tied with racism and classism. Power was specifically centralized to lock out “poor whites [and] black voters.” Instead of being able to control their own lives, the state capital had control of the laws. Even more recently: “When Birmingham tried to raise the minimum wage, they were struck down by the state legislature.”

The project of decentralization is not a rationalist utopian project. It is a practical project against the fragility of centralization. Centralized hierarchies are more easily corruptible. I’m not saying that localized control cannot be corrupted, but that it would require much more power and money to control more territory. Decentralized control can create bulwarks against corruption, preventing corruption from spreading.

Giving control to cities like Birmingham would not erase class distinctions. However, they would at least be able to raise the minimum wage. This is not possible in their over-centralized system. This is why I advocate for city-power over state-power and what makes me uneasy about projects like Calexit. In fact, if you magically erased nation-states and allowed cities to collaborate, we would already have the political will to do something about global warming. Again, it’s not that decentralization would automatically solve the problem, but it would make it more likely to be solved. With the Birmingham example, specifically, a lot of people would be materially better off. It’s harder to achieve this on the state level because of the aforementioned corruption.

So now, with just this specific example of Alabama, we can point out that on a utilitarian level, lots of people would likely be materially better with a more decentralized system. We can also show that it’s much less fragile when it comes to corruption by the elites. When we extend the example to include the state-level disenfranchisement, we can also show that the people have more power in the decentralized system. They may not necessarily choose to make their lives better, but at least they have the option, whereas they didn’t before. Morally and practically, decentralization is a better option than what we have now.

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