Political power – the power to tax, enforce and write law – must be distributed across individuals. Each area of power may be distributed differently. There are two main actors: the government itself and the people who are governed. Within the government the same division exists as well. In Canada, the provinces are governed by the federal government and federal courts. There are two main ways of distributing power within a country. Power is either distributed bottom-up or top-down.
If power is distributed bottom up within the area of taxation then taxes are collected by local municipal governments. Individuals do not pay any tax to any higher government. The local government is in turn taxed by the provincial (or state) government, and they in turn are taxed by the federal government. By distributing taxation this way, it is impossible for the federal government to control lower tiers of government by directly controlling the money supply. If each tier of government controls voting by sending representatives to higher tiers of government, then they will tend to vote to decrease taxes on themselves. At the lowest level of government, the voice of the individual is much louder than it would be at a higher tier of government. Therefore, such governments would not raise taxes as easily as a higher tier of government would.
If power is distributed top-down, then the decisions at the top determine what the bottom is allowed to do. In Canada, the federal government determines (through the constitution, legislation and regulation) the powers of lower tiers of government. The provincial government in turn determines the powers of the lowest tier of government. Such an arrangement of power is top-down. It is exactly the same distribution of power found in dictatorships and monarchies.
The ability to freely (and anonymously) elect legislators is often confused with democracy and a distribution of power. There is a form of government known as elective monarchy (or elective dictatorship) in which a person is freely elected to hold absolute power. Hitler in Germany is a real life example of this. He was elected to office and legally obtained the position to rule the country absolutely. A democracy is a rule by the people. In order for the people to rule, power must be distributed bottom-up. Having elections only means that legislative power is difficult to pass on to one’s children.
Canada is a real life example of a split system. Taxation is divided: the provinces receive money from the federal government, who receives it from individuals. Municipalities receives some money in taxes (property taxes and fees) and some money in grants from their provinces. In terms of actual money taxed, however, taxation is mostly top-down. The power to enforce laws is also divided. Responsibilities are divided between the federal government, the provinces and municipalities. However, the most serious crimes are federal and the largest and most serious lawsuits are also federal. Therefore, enforcement is mostly top-down. Legislation may be divided into law and regulation. Both of these are divided across the various tiers of government. However, issues governing taxation, the constitution, serious crimes, and much of the regulation affecting small businesses are all federal. So legislation is mostly top-down as well. Therefore, Canada’s distribution of power is mostly top-down. Or Canada functions for the most part as an elective dictatorship.
Just as I analyzed Canada, it is also possible to analyze any other country – past, present or future – and determine how power is distributed within the country. The other way to analyze a country is to determine what limits there are on the power held by the government. But that is a separate issue.