How do states learn how to solve problems? Does federalism create chaos or diffuse conflict in complex societies? Join us for this conversation between Hanna Kleider (King’s College London) and Jenna Bednar (University of Michigan) on the key challenges and benefits of multi-layered governance.

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The Guest

Jenna Bednar is the Edie N. Goldenberg Endowed Director for the University of Michigan in Washington Program; Professor of Political Science, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; Research Professor, Center for Political Studies and the Institute for Social Research at Michigan.

Professor Bednar’s research is on the analysis of institutions, focusing on the theoretical underpinnings of the stability of federal states.  Her most recent book, The Robust Federation demonstrates how complementary institutions maintain and adjust the distribution of authority between national and state governments. This book makes two theoretical contributions to the study of federalism’s design.  First, it shows that distributions suggested by a constitution mean nothing if the governments have no incentive to abide by them, and intergovernmental retaliation tends to be inefficient.  The book’s second contribution is that while no institutional safeguard is sufficient to improve the union’s prosperity, institutions work together to improve compliance with the distribution of authority, thereby boosting the union’s performance.

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1:08: The topic of federalism has gained a lot of attention, not only by academics but also by international institutions. Policymakers more generally often recommend federalism as a solution to conflict-ridden and heterogeneous societies. What do you think makes federalism so attractive in these contexts?

7:33: I really like this idea of retaliatory non-compliance by the states vis a vis the federal government. Can you give a recent example of how that would work?

11:50: You’re seeing this with climate change too, how states are taking the lead in challenging federal authorities.

16:41: Since we’re already talking about policy experimentation, that’s kind of an important part of federalism research. We think that state governments should take the lead in experimenting with new policies. What’s a good way federal governments can nudge the regional ones?

21:09: Going back to your work on the principles of federalism, you talk about institutional design, you don’t want to give one ideal federal system but you have some sort of design principles. If you were to give policy makers some advice on what those are, what would you tell them?

24:27: What do you think about this idea that if federations are linguistically homogenous, they will tend towards centralization? And if they’re heterogeneous, they’ll tend towards decentralization?

27:38: What’s the next stage in your research agenda?

30:08: How did you become interested in this area of research? Diversity, federalism, comparative institutions?