Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

The Difference Between Dual Federalism And Cooperative Federalism



 Federalism refers to the structure of government where central government does not hold all power, but shares it with the nation’s constituent states or regions (McDonnel, 2008). Federalism has numerous benefits for both national governments and their citizens. It helps citizens to take an active role in governing their nation, while also promoting the practice of democratic rule on the part of central government. When power is distributed among constituent states instead of being concentrated in the central government, there is less likely to be misuse of power.

In addition, citizens benefit from federalism because individual constituents can compete among themselves and also against the central government when creating the most practical financial and social policies (Amar & Kmiec, 1996). The two types of federalism that have been used to define government structures in Western democracies over the past century are dual federalism and cooperative federalism (McDonnel, 2008).

The Differences Between Dual Federalism and Cooperative Federalism

Dual federalism supports the concept that regional governments have the same rights as the state government in regards to passing legislation with the only difference being that both institutions operate in separate spheres (O’Toole, 2007). Cooperative federalism, on the other hand, holds that regional and state governments function within a single sphere and actually work in harmony to reach practical solutions for political, financial or social concerns (Amar & Kmiec, 1996).

Dual federalism is also commonly identified as layer cake federalism because it supports the notion that the rules created by national and regional governments can only be used within their individual jurisdictions (McDonnel, 2008). The powers exercised by the regional states as well as the central government, therefore, resemble the different layers of a cake as they cannot be exercised outside their mandated areas.

Cooperative federalism, which is also identified as marble cake federalism, differs from this outlook as it supports the notion that central governments and regional states essentially engage in power-sharing (O’Toole, 2007). The marble cake analogy is used to describe cooperative federalism because it represents a system where there is a mixture of power usage at local and state levels. In cooperative federalism, each governmental entity does not have distinctive power over its jurisdiction (Amar & Kmiec, 1996). Naturally, this creates an atmosphere of cooperation. Dual federalism can inspire tension between the central government and regional states when both institutions pass laws that contradict each other’s legislation (McDonnel, 2008).

Dual federalism allows regional governments to wield more power within their jurisdictions than cooperative federalism does. America’s founders introduced this model of government more than three centuries ago because they feared that a central government would quickly develop dictatorial tendencies (Amar & Kmiec, 1996). The central government was only tasked with collecting taxes and defending its different regional states if they were threatened by a foreign power. The absence of cooperative federalism, though, can result in differences in state and regional laws which strain a nation. More than a century ago in the US, differences in state laws concerning slavery contributed to the outbreak of the civil war (O’Toole, 2007).


The main difference between dual federalism and cooperative federalism has to do with the exercising of power in central and regional governments. Dual federalism supports the power division system where central and state governments exercise power within their separate jurisdictions. Cooperative federalism supports a power-sharing agreement where both central and regional governments equally share the responsibility of exercising power.

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References :

[0]Amar, A. R., & Kmiec, D. W. (1996). Perspectives on the Constitution: Understanding Our Constitution. National Constitution Center. Retrieved from http://constitutioncenter.org/learn/educational-resources/historical-documents/perspectives-on-the-constitution-understanding-our-constitution

[1]McDonnel, L. (2008). The Changing Nature of Federalism in Education: A Paradox and Some Unanswered Questions. Department of Political Science-University of California. Retrieved from http://nysa32.nysed.gov/edpolicy/research/res_bib_mcdonnell.pdf

[2]O’Toole, L. J. (2007). American Intergovernmental Relations: Foundations, Perspectives, And Issues. Washington, DC: CQ Press. Retrieved from http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/toc/ecip0614/2006017093.html


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