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Consequences of Informal Autonomy

The Case of Russian Federalism

Alexander Libman

The book is the first to provide a systematic overview of the interplay of formal and informal institutions as elements of the Russian federalism from the early 1990s to the mid-2010s. It discusses the crucial role of informal power structures and practices in the relations between the center and the regions in Russia, which survived the centralization policy of the Putin government. Using econometric large-N analysis and a set of novel quantitative indicators, the book shows that persistence of informal autonomy in Russia has mostly harmful consequences for the political development of the regions, contributing to the consolidation and strengthening of sub-national autocracies.
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2. Informal autonomy in federations


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2.  Informal autonomy in federations

2.1  Rules and outcomes

As a starting point for our discussion, it is reasonable to revisit how political science and economics typically conceptualize decentralization in federations. We will leave aside the purely legal aspect of this problem (which would, for example, make it necessary to strictly separate federations, where sub-national governments have certain level of sovereignty, from other forms of decentralization),4 and focus on the nature of allocation of power and resources between different governments in the center or in the regions. From this point of view, it is, first of all, necessary to distinguish between the constitutional and the post-constitutional decentralization. The distinction is similar to that made in constitutional political economy (Buchanan 1990) regarding the difference between the constitutional rules and the policies implemented within these rules: while the former determine the way decision-makers interact with each other and the decisions are made, the latter describe the content of the decisions themselves.5

Constitutional decentralization refers to the allocation of authorities between levels of government, i.e., the extent to which sub-national governments (a) can make independent decisions and (b) are formed independently from the center. We use the word ‘constitution’ broadly, as a synonym to the entire set of rules and regulations determining how decisions are made. In the extreme case, sub-national governments are merely supposed to implement the policies dictated by the center and are appointed by the central authorities. This is...

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