Going Local: Decentralization, Democratization, and the Promise of Good Governance
By Merilee S. Grindle
The director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University marshaled a team of young scholars to survey 30 medium-sized counties in Mexico to assess the accomplishments of political decentralization -- "the new federalism." In analyzing the exciting array of promising reforms as well as the inertia of clientelistic traditions, Grindle weighs the introduction of political-party competition, the role of innovative ideas and entrepreneurial leaders, the implementation of modern methods of public administration, and the logic of civil society. Among the most interesting findings: frequently, vibrant citizen engagement was an important factor in extracting resources from local governments, but strict single-term limits denied citizens an important mechanism for bottom-up accountability. And surprisingly, townships led by the traditional PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) performed as well as those led by the party associated with local government reform, the PAN (National Action Party). Grindle's chief concern is that as officials turn over, many valuable reforms will not endure; accordingly, she urges that Mexico allow for the reelection of local public officials and that municipalities receive more tax revenues to meet their enlarged responsibilities.