WHY DECENTRALIZATION?

As I said, the most important role of democracy is in the election of those who direct the labor of others. They will be dominators if they are not democratically responsible to those whom they direct. And this is direct democracy.

The Soviet idea was that the top boss would be responsible to the whole country, and the top supervisors would be responsible to him, and the next level to them, and so on down to the worker on the shop floor, a citizen of the country. This was supposed to make the supervisors responsible to those supervised. Of course, it never worked that way. The fact that the top leader was never really responsible to the country was just a symptom that this indirect responsibility couldn't work.

Indirect responsibility is bad logic, as well. Suppose my boss (the head of the economics department) is responsible to a higher boss who is elected by the whole faculty of the business college. Does that mean the head of the economics department is responsible to the economics department, even indirectly? No. He is responsible to a different group -- one that includes the economics department, to be sure, but different all the same. If he is not elected by the economics department, then he is not responsible to the economics department, and that means he will have more opportunities to be a petty dictator.

Indirect responsibility may work fairly well within limits. But the larger and more centralized the organization is, the more indirect the responsibility of supervisors to the group supervised will be, and so the less free the people who work in that organization will be.

I have said that centralization of government can favor freedom, in some circumstances. That should come as no surprise. It is often said that decentralized government is "closer to the people." That's a myth. You probably have heard someone say, "you can't fight city hall." When is the last time you heard someone say, "you can't fight the Federal Building?" The fact is that city hall messes with our lives more than the Federal Government does, and is more likely to be corrupt and incompetent, and less likely to be caught at it. Decentralization is not something that increases freedom, in and of itself. It depends on what is decentralized, and on the quality of the decentralization.

The idea of the Cooperative Commonwealth favors "democratic decentralization" in voluntary productive organizations, and direct democracy, to the greatest feasible extent, in any relationships in which some people direct the labor of others. As for government, if decentralization of government leads to direct democracy, then let's do it. But if government decentralization puts more power into the hands of the county sheriff and the town boss political gangster, then it would be a disaster. There is no worse tyrant than a petty tyrant.

Where organization is necessary, and the direction of some people's labor by other people is necessary, freedom flourishes best in organizations that are democratic, voluntary, and decentralized. Capitalist production organizations may be voluntary -- in the narrow and minor sense -- but they are not democratic and, historically, have been more and more centralized. The cooperative principles call, among other things, for autonomy -- decentralization -- for good reason.