Decentralization's deficiencies

NOTE HXA7241 2017-12-31T11:03Z

Decentralization means the lack of a shared causative source; but that necessarily implies a lack of coordination, and hence also inefficiency and instability. Its benefit of creativity counterbalances, but does not eliminate, those detriments.


  • Decentralization is about (lack of) control
  • Decentralization is anti-coordinative
  • Decentralization is inefficient and self-weakening
  • Decentralization is liberating and creative

Decentralization is about (lack of) control

The first step to clarify ‘decentralization’ is asking: has it only an internal, technical meaning – the distribution over computers, the parallelising, something algorithmic … ?

No, it cannot be merely technical, for it would not motivate. Take something ‘centralized’ – a social-media hub – they would need only change their IT system implementation (distribute it or whatever), and, hey presto, they would be decentralized! Yet they could behave exactly the same as before. This does not satisfy.

The true concern is instead external, the interaction between a system and its participants or users: what affects what, what is the flow of control, and information. This is the popular sentiment: ‘We do not want this surveillance, these limitations, and so effectively, controls over our activity, all stemming from a single power. We want the services, but run just by people, out from under the shadow of the monolith: organisation without control – that is decentralization!’.

But the logic of this cri-de-coeur is incoherent. As the rest of the article will show, decentralization is essentially the opposite of organisation, and two important benefits that depend on it – efficiency and stability. Decentralization does not wholly exclude those in every instance, since each case will be a mixture of features that trade-off variously; but in the aspects that are decentralized, and the degree to which they are, those deficiencies will be forced into being.

Decentralization is anti-coordinative

‘Decentralized organisation/system’ is at root a contradiction – or at best a trade-off. Here are the components of the argument:

  1. Organisation is correlation,
  2. correlation implies shared information,
  3. shared information implies common causation,
  4. and common causation is centralization.

Two or more individuals, when uncorrelated, act randomly to each other – this is disorganisation. But to be organised they must be correlated, and in not being random with respect to each other they must have some constraint between them. Correlation is not something each does itself, but something in common.

By acting in concert – joined by that constraint – something is shared, and the only thing that can be shared (copied rather than merely divided into pieces) is information. And the only non-infinitesimal chance of substantial information being the same in multiple places is by issuing from a single source.

So organisation and centralization are indivisible: centralization is just a word for a single causative source (step 4), which is the only way to produce the same information (step 3), hence patterns of action (step 2), which to say organisation (step 1).


From that a better definition of centralization comes to light. Centralization is the expression of shared information, in coherence, pattern, organisation. Centralizations can be large or small: a maximal one involves every agent/person, but a minimal one only two. And they may vary in the detail and occasion of control exerted. But wherever people/agents/elements act coherently, all following some pattern, there is a centralization – the centralization is the information that determines the pattern they follow. Decentralization is just the absence of that: where agents lack centralization.

Decentralization is inefficient and self-weakening

There are two primary corollaries to the essential opposition of decentralization and organisation.

Decentralization is inefficient

Removing the single point of control removes the single point of efficiency.

Efficiency is bestowed largely through sharing costs. Where there is a pattern, each element is defined partly by it rather than solely individual variation. The proportion by which each item is the same is the degree you can share the cost of producing each such item – 100 products can be made with less than the resources needed for 100 isolated products.

But decentralization, as previously established, removes common sources of control, and the shared patterns that follow. By doing so it eradicates any cost-sharing resting upon it, and must be comparatively inefficient.

Decentralization is self-weakening

If you start with no constraint, you do not end that way.

Minimising rules – that is, centralizations – that control activity seems, prima facie, to leave people with freedom, but withdrawing constraint is not the same as preventing it. Allowing freedom does not impose the absence of structure, it allows any structure. People aligning with some structure (conforming with it) is just one of the possibilities that freedom permits.

People may collaborate, form organisations, ie centralizations, and since these enable efficiency, they will in time prevail, needing only exercise of preference. Centralizations will arise to displace or dominate the original decentralized state.

The only way to maintain decentralization's individual freedom is by its opposite: have a centralization to enforce limits on behaviour between individuals. Otherwise, left alone, decentralization evolves toward centralization anyway.

Decentralization is liberating and creative

But decentralization is not all detriment. Its benefits are that:

  • it allows individual freedom (probably to be judged at least a good in itself) – since it withdraws control;
  • and that releases creativity – in unbounded divergence from commonality.

And where do centralizations come from? They must be created. So the consequent value of centralizations depends on the knowledge from the creativity of decentralization – which therefore must be quartered some hospitality.