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Decentralization, historical state capacity and public goods provision in Post-Soviet Russia

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Foa, RS 


Democratic decentralization has been widely adopted across the developing world with the goal of improving local accountability and the delivery of public services. However, outcomes have varied widely depending on the degree of local-level elite capture, cohesion, and governing capacity. This article draws on data from one of the most radical recent cases of fiscal and administrative decentralization: post-Soviet Russia from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. Drawing upon detailed demographic, survey, and time-series public goods data from each of 83 districts, this article documents growing inequality in service provision over time and shows via a series of spatial regressions that a strong predictor of success in maintaining public goods delivery was the degree of historically accumulated state capacity. This effect is independent of the degree of local ethnic fractionalization, economic development, or civic association. A detailed examination of two case studies at similar levels of ethnic diversity and baseline development - Tatarstan and Buryatia – suggests that legacies of historical state formation established indigenous elites and bureaucratic capacity, resulting in stronger elite-citizen ties and accountability to local actors and concerns. The wide variation of post-decentralization trajectories in Russia, and the eventual push to recentralize control. suggests an important concern for policymakers promoting devolved governance in polities with divergent subnational legacies of historical state development. Where decentralization occurs in contexts that are not uniformly favorable to its success, both the decentralization and democracy-building aspects of devolution reforms may come under threat from bureaucratic centralism.



Public goods, State capacity, Decentralization, Russia, Federalism, Historical legacies

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World Development

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Elsevier BV


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