What is a unitary government?
By definition, it is a system of governing where virtually all of the power is located within a centralized government structure. The government itself rules as a single entity. It has the authority to delegate certain powers to certain people or locations without losing the authority to override the delegated authority at any time.
It is able to rule over an entire society because it has the authority to create or remove divisions that are necessary at any given time. Unless specifically granted, no one has the authority to challenge the creation or removal of any division, nor are they allowed to challenge the overall authority of the government itself.
A unitary government is one of the most common ruling structures that humanity utilizes. As of 2018, more than 150 different countries use some form of a unitary government at some level.
There are many advantages and disadvantages of a unitary government to consider. Here are some of the most important key points.
List of the Advantages of a Unitary Government
1. Unitary governments can easily replicate.
Because the government is centralized in a unitary structure, it can place satellites at virtually any location very quickly. This makes it possible for every citizen to have access to government resources. At the same time, the actual authority of the government is maintained without difficulty because the local satellite has the exact same authority as the centralized location. This creates infrastructure, which creates stability, and that makes it possible for the government to fulfill its obligations to its people.
2. Unitary governments also create societal unity.
There are fewer pockets of political polarization that can be found in a unitary government structure compared to other forms of government. That is because all government is essentially the same, no matter where an individual’s specific location may be. This is very different than the current structure of the U.S. government, which may have local, county, state, and national governments all trying to work simultaneously with one another. Being loyal to 4 different governments is a very different process from being loyal to one centralized form of government.
3. It encourages the government to be smaller instead of larger.
Even with satellites branching out from it, a government based on unitary standards tends to be smaller and more consolidated that other forms of governing. This is possible because more authority is placed within specific structures, politicians, or groups. Because there are fewer levels of bureaucracy that must be navigated, the government is able to move faster when a response is needed. Not only does this offer cost-savings for taxpayers, it also makes it possible for people to manage the direction of their own fate without feeling like their government is trying to micro-manage them every day.
4. Costs can be instantly limited or expanded as needed.
Because the central government has the authority to create or rescind at a moment’s notice, it becomes possible to operate on a balanced budget at all times. This government can increase expenditures immediately when resources are needed, such as during a natural disaster response. It can also decrease expenditures immediately to ensure that taxpayer funds are being spent without the creation of deficits. Fewer levels of government create lower costs as well.
5. It is a form of government that is highly responsive.
Because power is consolidated centrally, there are fewer barriers in place for a fast response with a unitary government. If the government feels like it needs to be present at a specific location, then it can immediately insert the infrastructure that is required. The government can even authorize someone on the ground to be the designated government representative, who would have the same overall powers as the regular government when tasks must be completed. If a threat occurs or there is some sort of disaster that must be managed, this type of structure is one of the fastest and most efficient that there is.
6. Regulations and laws are standardized.
In the United States, there is a patchwork of laws, regulations, and standards that must be followed based on a person’s geographic location. This system goes away under a unitary form of government. Regulations become standardized across the entire country. Everyone follows the same laws. What is legal or illegal is clearly defined. If a unitary government legalized recreational marijuana possession, for example, you could travel from Colorado to Nebraska without concern.
7. It eliminates the need of a local or regional legislature.
The cost of local and county governments vary across the United States. State governments spend an average of $2 trillion each year, through taxpayer funding, to provide local resource access without the U.S. government helping out. In a unitary government structure, these resources could be put toward other needs, such as reduced college tuition costs, subsidized healthcare costs, or anything else the centralized government deems to be necessary for the overall greater good of society.
List of the Disadvantages of a Unitary Government
1. A unitary government is essentially an oligarchy.
A unitary system of government consolidates all of its power within a handful of individuals. There may be a specific leader, such as a President or a Prime Minister. There may also be elected officials, such as a senator or a representative. At the end of the day, however, the average person has very little influence on what happens to their society. They can write or talk to politicians. Still, at the end of the day, it is the politician making the decision and not the individual.
2. Everything is centralized in a unitary government, without exception.
It can be advantageous to have certain governing elements be centralized, but a unitary government centralizes everything. That includes banking and financial markets. Unless someone has wealth access or has talents or skills that can earn them that access, the unitary government is able to maintain power and control by limiting who can access wealth in that society. They can tax people, refuse to tax certain businesses, or place specific requirements on certain careers that can make it difficult for the average person to build wealth over time.
3. It is a government system that gives a lot of power to a few people or one individual.
A centralized government has an enormous amount of power. Societal decisions are made on a daily basis. When that power is consolidated into a single individual, it becomes possible to manipulate this system of government for personal gain. That is why the unitary government structure is the most common form of government to transition into a dictatorship. There is so much time and money invested into the structure of the government that allowing one person to dictate what happens is seen as more valuable than having freedom of choice.
4. Unitary governments can create pockets of isolation.
Because the power is centrally assigned, there must be access to a government satellite for every community at some level. Without access, there is no actual government. That can be advantageous if the government is abusive, though it is a definite negative for a community that is lacking resources and has no government access simultaneously. In many instances, governing under a unitary format becomes an exercise in survival instead of it being an exercise in forward progress.
5. It can also be ignorant about local concerns or problems.
The unitary government structure takes a macro-view of society. Governing, however, needs to happen on macro- and micro-levels. Unless the government is active through a satellite in local communities, it will have little awareness of what the population of that community requires. Or worse – local concerns are set aside because the government feels that other threats are of a higher priority. Even if self-governing is encouraged, local communities struggle to access the resources they need when a centralized government is operational.
6. Centralized governments are easy to manipulate.
There are advantages to a centralized structure, like a reduction in bureaucracy. Removing bureaucratic barriers does have some disadvantages to think about. For starters, there are fewer checks and balances in place. That means someone with enough savvy and wit can manipulate the government to prioritize their personal benefits. It can allow people to pursue more power for themselves. It can lead to a society where everyone feels like they must manipulate the government just to have their basic needs met. Instead of looking out for others, the focus of society becomes about survival.
7. There really isn’t any official infrastructure.
The response of a unitary government, in theory, should be faster than other forms of governing. In reality, things are very different. Centralized governments may have satellites available to them, but they do not have formalized structures where benefits or supplies can be physically managed. That means the overall response to a crisis situation is typically slower with this form of government. There is an underlying attitude that people are expected to take care of themselves first and then access the government’s benefits only if they have exhausted every other option.
8. It can place an emphasis on foreign issues over domestic issues.
The overall focus of a unitary government is based on what is good for the overall society. That means foreign matters typically hold a priority over local issues. Unitary governments often have a priority for peace, but that comes from a border-to-border perspective. The poorer classes in this government structure tend to suffer, especially without access to their government in rural areas, and that can make it difficult to survive. Government responses are necessary in this type of system and they just aren’t provided 100% of the time.
9. Unitary governments ignore local cultural differences.
What is good for the residents of California may not be good for the residents of Texas. Regional differences are often suppressed or ignored in a unitary government because there is a desire to create autonomy. Everyone is treated “the same,” but there is no individualization present. Everyone is expected to follow the same expectations, no matter what their local culture or ethnic traditions may be. Over time, this can increase the calls to secede from the government when needs are continually suppressed.
10. There are fewer opportunities to try new ideas.
Unitary governments tend to direct traffic using methods that are “tried and true.” There is little room for innovation or progress with new policies or procedures because the government exists in a consolidated manner. There are relatively few opportunities to experiment with a new idea to see if it could work better because such an action would disrupt the autonomy that is so highly desired.
The advantages and disadvantages of a unitary government are dependent upon the people who hold power within it structures. Leaders who are honorable and honest and help their country and society move forward quickly and with high levels of innovation. Leaders without those qualities may choose to consolidate their power at the expense of the population, transforming the government into more of a dictatorship.